Women's Heart Health

The Picture of Health
By Patricia Bowe Broyles (Gamma Omicron-Drake)

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On May 26, 2004, at 7 a.m. the tingling in my toes and fingers and numbness in my left arm could no longer be ignored. After stopping at a gas station to get a cup of coffee, I decided to take a detour from my normal route to work and checked myself in at the emergency room at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Texas. After a physician's assistant ran three EKGs, took my pulse every hour and drew five vials of blood, I was proclaimed at 47 years of age to be "the picture of health."

The P.A. released me at 6:00 p.m. and told me to see a cardiologist the next morning as a precautionary measure. I was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse at 30 in 1986 when I was hospitalized with a minor malady. The cardiologist told me to treat this condition with antibiotics before every visit to the dentist and prescribed a baby aspirin every day. This hardly seemed like tough duty for an Alpha Phi who had bowled and jump roped for heart and had helped throw numerous parties and galas for my chapter's philanthropy of choice, The Heart Fund. I was an informed single mother of two with an active lifestyle and enjoyed a socially demanding career as a professional fundraiser. I was surrounded by family and friends who said I made it all look easy. Little did they know I had begun to fall into bed at 8:30 or 9 p.m. depleted and physically exhausted for most of the last year. A stressful divorce 10 years earlier was beginning to rear its ugly head for the fourth time in a decade, and my stress level began to rise as day-to-day difficulties mounted.

 

On May 27 at 9 a.m. I saw a female cardiologist who weighed me, took my blood pressure and after taking my pulse also proclaimed I was indeed, upon initial inspection, "the picture of health." She decided to work me into her busy schedule for a routine echocardiogram and stress test. I cheerily informed her that I had called in sick for the first time in three years and that I was hers for the afternoon. When she returned to the waiting room to discuss the results of my tests she firmly announced I had a condition that had progressively worsened over the last 17 years and that if she were me, she would immediately see a surgeon to schedule open-heart surgery. I collapsed into a chair and listened as she described the regurgitation that had been occurring in my heart since birth. The by-products of mitral valve prolapse are an enlarged heart caused by the heart muscle working twice as hard and fluid in the lungs and chest cavity. I would have to seek the advice and counsel of a surgeon to determine whether or not I would need to have this damaged valve in my heart repaired or replaced. I immediately called friends who put on the Cote Du Coeur, a formal wine event to raise funds for the American Heart Association, for referrals to the best heart surgeons in Texas. Luckily, the same two names were mentioned over and over: Dr. Robert Hebbler at Baylor and Dr. Dan Meyer at U.T. Southwestern. I immediately made appointments with them both. Surely, there had been a mistake and my fears would be calmed once I was delivered into their capable hands.

 

The next morning I met Dr. Hebbler who affirmed the cardiologist's diagnosis. No longer brave, the tears started to flow. A week later I met with Dr. Meyer, the surgeon who was to become my choice to correct this unseen problem that had been steadily but surely robbing me of my vitality. Dr. Meyer inserted the copy the CD my cardiologist made into his computer and explained that my heart was pumping at 50 percent efficiency due to a leak in the valve. This condition if left untreated could result in congestive heart failure. I had youth and few other risk factors to worry about; we scheduled surgery for July 21 at 8 a.m.

 

Eight days after heart surgery I was on a flight with my mother en route to Chicago where I was pampered by my family. Advances in heart surgery made it possible to be back to work and resume normal activity in four to six weeks. Dr. Meyer was able to repair the damage to the mitral valve in a complex procedure that lasted seven hours. I am grateful to Dr. Meyer and his staff for their excellent care and attention during my stay at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center. I hope my story will inspire others with this condition to seek testing when the following symptoms occur:  shortness of breath, dizziness, a general feeling of coldness (particularly in the extremities), and in my case, numbness and tingling in the fingers and toes.

If you have been diagnosed with a heart murmur or mitral valve prolapse:

1.       Find a cardiologist with whom you can discuss this condition.

2.       Make an appointment to establish a baseline through an electrocardiogram and stress test.

3.       Remember to take prescribed antibiotics before every visit to a dentist if this is the course of action determined by your doctor.

 

Editor's Note: Patti Broyles is director of development at the Dallas Museum of Natural History. She is a former chapter advisor, alumnae chapter president and recipient of the Michaelanean Award. She is pictured above with her two teenage legacies, Taylor and Delaney.

Please Note: Information provided in this article is not intended to take the place of a physician's advice. Please consult your health care provider with questions and for proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.