Normally the writer of this story, Sheri Rowney (pictured), is a regular contributor describing how her LENS therapy and Harmonized Brain Centers has transformed people’s lives. But this article is different, it’s about how a chance mailing from Life Line Screening led her to an amazing series of events, culminating in heart by pass surgery.
Life can be full of coincidences; most provoke a feeling of surprise, occasionally a question:, few you can look back on and say..’wow! that saved my life”. This one was truly a miracle.
It all started in September of last year. Up until then 2018 had been pretty uneventful, a productive busy one as my new business had really taken off, our old farmhouse had undergone some final remodeling and we had returned from a lovely vacation in England. All in all everything was looking pretty good.
It was a Saturday when I collected the mail and gave it a cursory glance, the usual collection of bills and flyers. Nothing really caught my eye, until a postcard slipped out from the pile and fell to the floor. As I picked it up, I couldn’t help but notice the big bold printing that said “$2500 worth of tests for only $199”. That caught my attention! It was for Life Line Screening and they were offering a series of tests for heart, bone density and cholesterol down at a local church. It sounded like a good deal to me and while I was not experiencing any symptoms or having any health problems, I figured a deal like that was worth it just to get a baseline for the future.
What transpired after that I could not have imagined happening to me in a million years!
I called the number on the card to make an appointment.
The lady who answered expressed surprise that someone of my age (55) should even want to be screened. I replied that as they were just in the local town and it was so reasonably priced, it seemed silly not to, more out of curiosity, than concern for my health.
I went down for my appointment the following week, had a series of tests including a blood draw for cholesterol and glucose, an aortic ultrasound, a carotid ultrasound, an ultra sound of my heart and a bone density test. The people there were very friendly and professional and I felt very comfortable with what they were doing. It took less than an hour and I was free to go about my day. I left thinking no more about it and completely forgot to look out for the results that would be sent a few days later.
As with all letters containing bad news, the reply from Life Line Screening arrived on a Saturday!
I casually opened the envelope and read the results with increasing horror and disbelief. It wasn’t just bad news, it was awful news. The tests showed that I had elevated cholesterol levels, which didn’t panic me too much as that was a genetic thing in my family. But then it said that I had ‘considerable blockage in my carotid arteries and in my heart arteries and that it was extremely important that I get with my primary physician immediately to discuss the results and continue further treatment’.
I was in shock and disbelief..I felt fine, had no symptoms at all that I knew of. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t have high blood pressure, had never been told there was any indication of a problem with my heart. I spent a panicked weekend researching what I should do and where I should go. I finally decided to call the Cardiology department at Vanderbilt UMC in Nashville.
At 8:00am Monday morning I called and asked who I should contact to get a referral to see them. As I was on the phone explaining my situation, amazingly the lady told me they had a Cardio Clinic, that day, with a spare appointment at 11.00am. The second miracle! I mean who gets in to see a cardiologist at one of the top cardiology facilities in the nation on the same day?
I booked it and with my husband we made the hour long trip to Nashville, still in a state of disbelief this could be happening to me. My appointment was with Dr. See, a doctor I will always hold in high regard for both his professionalism and compassion as I spilled out my story and concerns. He spent over an hour with me, taking the time to read what had been sent to me, get my history and talk to me about what was happening. After his examination, he was perplexed that I had no symptoms based on what the report said and suggested more testing to rule out any problems. He scheduled me for a calcium score that day; a non-invasive CT scan of my heart that would measure the amount of calcified plaque in my coronary arteries. He also wanted to get a nuclear stress test scheduled as well as a repeat ultrasound of my heart and carotid arteries.
I left feeling much better in that I was in good hands and the doctor seemed confident that these tests would give a much better idea of any problems that may or may not be brewing. I went downstairs for the Calcium score and was much more relaxed than I had been in days.
That relaxation didn’t last long as the doctor called about two hours later he was stunned with the results of my test; they were much higher than he expected. Guidelines show a “normal” heart with no presence of coronary heart disease to be less than a 100, and cause for concern to be between 100 and 400, my reading was 800! The idea that this was all a false alarm quickly slipped away.
In the following days, I went in for my repeat ultrasounds and they showed considerable plaque buildup; just like Life Line’s had indicated. My insurance company refused to pay for the nuclear stress test, (thanks Blue Cross Blue Shield!) even after Dr. See went to bat for me, so he set up an appointment for me to have an ultrasound stress instead. This is where they do a baseline ultrasound of my heart before I get on the treadmill and then they hook me up to all sorts of wires and monitor me on the treadmill until I hit their target at which point I run back to the table so they can do another ultrasound while my heart is working at its maximum. Sounded a lot easier than it was!
After five minutes of walking, I started to struggle with my breathing; I had had problems over the last couple of years with walking any distance and breathing but had been told I had exercise induced asthma so I thought that was the problem. As I ran back to the table for my ultrasound, gasping for breath and feeling awful, I could tell on the faces of those in the room, something was wrong. A doctor was brought in; my doctor was out that day, and she immediately said I needed to get a heart catherization asap. This was very overwhelming to me and I left there more scared and more perplexed than ever before. Me, who had never had a heart problem, was scheduled for heart surgery in two days!
On October 18 I went into Vanderbilt UMC for the heart cath. I had a great physician assistant that came in and explained the operation which involves inserting a minute camera on a scope up through your artery from your wrist to the heart. If the blockage wasn’t too severe they’d pop in a stent (a coil designed to open up and keep open the artery) and we’d be out of there in no time. She told me I would be awake for the procedure but wouldn’t feel anything while they were working. She said there were three scenarios; 1) They would find no problem and would be in and out in no time 2) They would find some blockage in one or more arteries and could put the stent in 3) The blockages would be so severe that stents could not work and they would have to close up and refer me to see a surgeon for open heart surgery. All those involved seemed to think the solution was just a stent or two away.
They were wrong!
The doctor quickly discovered the blockage was so severe in three arteries that using a stent was impossible, “sorry but we just can’t do it; words I never wanted to hear.
The only alternative now was heart bypass surgery, a major procedure, made a little more complicated because of radiation treatment I had received 29 years ago when I had cancer. The scars and internal damage it had created could cause some complications said my cardio surgeon Dr Shah, the doctor Dr. See had referred me to at Vanderbilt. He however was quick to tell me that the hospital had an exceptional rate of success; with mortality from this procedure at about 1%, my complications raising the odds to maybe 2 or 3%. Without the surgery, my impending mortality from a cardiac event would be much, much higher within five years.
Dr See decided that my operation ranked as “urgent but one below an emergency” and should therefore be scheduled as soon as possible, but at my convenience. By now it was late October and I was hoping to get the operation done the following week so I stood a chance of being relatively fit for Thanksgiving. But the first date available was Wednesday November 7th, two weeks away.
Friends and family, including my parents and all five of my children from Michigan to Florida made plans to arrive early that week to be here for me and to help support my husband as I went through the surgery. It felt really strange to have everyone coming in; I was so grateful to have them but hated the reason for it. We tried to make it a fun, happy time but my eye was on the Wednesday and I was distracted and nervous. I just wanted time to either slow down or mover faster; the anticipation was too much. And then on Monday Vanderbilt called to tell me they would have to reschedule the surgery until Friday the 9th as Dr. Shah had a heart transplant emergency on Wednesday that took precedence over his schedule. Two more days of waiting and worrying! I made a decision to be grateful that I wasn’t considered as urgent as the patient before me and to pray for the person that needed that heart. That helped to calm me down and focus at what was a hand.
We were told to arrive at 8:00 AM at the Vanderbilt reception area. We were there a few minutes early as I usually do; we checked in and waited. And waited. And waited. I went from impatience to nervousness to resignation to feeling faint from hunger and thirst (I couldn’t have anything by mouth from midnight the night before and my last real meal had been at 7:00 PM). I’d done enough worrying, crying, thinking worst case scenarios, I just wanted to get it over with. Someone finally came out at about noon and said there had been an emergency that morning that took first place and then a case before me had to go so we would still be looking at a few more hours before I got called in.
Finally at 3.00pm they called my name and before I knew it I was on the 5th Floor in bed getting IV’s, washed from head to toe in antiseptic, talking to the anesthesiologist who in the most charming bedside manner explained in detail what would happen next. They even put a thin plastic sheet over me that had a tube blowing hot air in it to keep me warm and comfortable until we were ready to go. Within 45 minutes of being called up from reception I was kissing my husband goodbye and being wheeled into the Operating Theatre. Whatever they had put in my IV to calm me was some pretty good stuff because I don’t even remember the ride in!
My next recollection was waking up in ICU and my daughter talking to me and trying to keep me awake for an hour; the time required for them to see me breathing on my own so they could take me off the respirator. I was so sleepy but she did such a good job keeping me awake as she knew I would want that thing out! I remember asking her questions about my surgery by spelling it out on the palm of her hand. I was so grateful to get that tube out of my throat.
The next day, still connected by a dozen tubes and wires, they got me out of bed and in a chair. Doctors and nurses came and went every few minutes continually checking the array of monitors that NASA would have been envious of. By the next day, most of these were removed and I was beginning to walk with the aid of a walker and I was moved out of ICU to a regular room. I was sore and tired but so glad to be alive and on the road to recovery. By day three I was on treadmill (twice) and on the morning of the fourth day after surgery, the doctor the came in and announced I had met ‘all my goals’ and could go home! I had anticipated being there for a week so this was big news and while I was so excited to go home, the fear of leaving the hospital where everyone knows what to do and is monitoring my every move, became very real. I would now be an hour from that security. But they thought I was ready, so I needed to believe that too.
My biggest problem initially was getting enough sleep, not being able to lie properly in bed. Frequently it was easier in a recliner chair or on a wedge pillow I had bought before surgery but getting more than two or three hours of sleep was just not possible for the first couple of weeks. This left me feeling worn out and tired; irritable and frustrated. I found warm showers to be my best friend as they relaxed me and made me more comfortable. As a LENS practitioner (Low Energy Neurofeedback), I gave myself some sessions to keep me from feeling depressed or anxious, something that I had read was common after open heart surgery. Amazingly, by the beginning of the third week things just started to look up; sleep was better, I felt more awake and energized; pain had mostly disappeared, I was able to walk for longer periods of time and I was ready to start cardiac rehab.
This journey has certainly had its twists and turns. It is not one I had ever expected to take. While I was in the hospital, I had so many medical professionals come in and ask me to tell them my story (they had heard it through the grapevine). They’ve all said that little postcard saved my life or that my story is truly a miracle. They’re all astonished I showed no symptoms with my heart in the condition that it was. I am strong in my faith and I believe that God gave me all these clues and that it is my responsibility to share my story so that others can get checked and be made aware of how and what coronary heart disease can look like. I am so grateful for everyone that has been a part of the journey. My husband, family and friends have been so supportive and have helped me in any way that they could. All along the way Vanderbilt has not only been amazingly efficient, but the staff consistently concerned about my welfare, my understanding of the issues and procedures, and offering explanations and guidance at every turn. And thanks to Life Line Screening for sending me the postcard that probably saved my life.
For more info on Life Line Screening: Call: 800-697-9721 to find a screening near you. Or visit www.lifelinescreening.com