Story of Strength.
Second in a series of personal stories that appear each Thursday in February as part of American Heart Month.
Jean Kenefick had been looking for signs of heart trouble. With her family’s history of high cholesterol and hardening of the arteries, she exercised often and visited her doctors regularly. It’s fortunate for Jean that her doctors were also looking and listening carefully.
During a regular checkup in 2010, Jean’s family doctor heard a swishing sound that hadn’t been there before. And very quickly afterwards, Jean became an MVP heart patient…an MVP title no one wants to receive.
The heart’s mitral valve keeps blood flowing in one direction, through the heart and back into the body. In rare cases, the flaps of the mitral valve bulge or flop back into the left atrium. Doctors call this condition mitral valve prolapse or MVP, and it affects less than 3% of the population. For a small percentage of MVP patients, the valve doesn’t close properly and blood leaks backward into the heart. This backflow of blood can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and eventually heart failure and death.
Jean’s MVP condition was mild when diagnosed in 2010. Dr. Williams, her local cardiologist determined that no action was required other than regular monitoring. But last year Jean began to suffer shortness of breath and mild fatigue. She chalked it up to stress at work, and began exercising harder.
Then during a regular checkup last summer, her gynecologist detected louder swishing and a heart murmur, and advised Jean to get it checked immediately.
Jean returned to Dr. Williams for an echocardiogram, a procedure that uses sound waves to take a moving picture of the heart. It wasn’t Jean’s first echocardiogram, but this time it was different.
“What was really a shocker was, they do the echocardiogram and say ‘have a good day, the doctor will call you next week with the results’. But by the time I got home, there was a message on the phone.” She was asked to return to the office the next day. After a sleepless night, Jean learned her valve wasn’t functioning properly, and that open heart surgery would be required as soon as possible.
Jean and her doctor reviewed her options: either have her valve repaired, or replaced with another type of valve. Since replacement valves don’t last forever, Jean wanted to find someone who could do a permanent repair. After a great deal of research on the Internet, Jean found Dr. Donald Glower at the Duke Medical Center. “I put in ‘mitral valve repair genius’, and his name popped up many, many times.”
After an interview with Dr. Glower, Jean’s surgery was scheduled at the end of August. This minimally invasive surgery entered from the right side between two ribs, rather than cracking her chest open from the front. But once inside, Dr. Glower found Jean’s mitral valve was torn, not just weak. Six and a half hours later, Dr. Glower finished and met with Jean’s family and friends. “They said he came out of the operating room with his eyes all lit up saying ‘look what I did’!”
Rather than replacing the valve, Dr. Glower was able to rebuild it using a composite device called a D-ring. When asked how long it would last, Dr. Glower assured Jean’s family, “In twelve thousand years, when the archaeologists are digging through things, they’re going to pick this up and go ‘what’s this thing?’”
Jean was in the hospital only seven days. Four months later, she no longer has shortness of breath, a heart murmur or any leakage. Jean still participates in a local cardio rehab program at CarolinaEast, and she loves it. “They’re a phenomenal team, and I can’t thank them enough. They’re so compassionate and funny, and they push you real hard, but they do it for your own good.”
Jean is quick to praise the medical professionals here in eastern North Carolina, and the many medical advances that made her treatment possible. “It’s fascinating to me how far medicine has come, to be able to have this even happen. Dr. Williams is phenomenal. Dr. Glower is phenomenal. Just to have that expertise available in eastern North Carolina is unbelievable. We’ve got a wealth of experts in this area, and I’m blessed and thank them every day.”
And as careful and as knowledgeable as she was before all this happened, Jean learned so much more through her experience. “You really need to listen to your body. Your body sends you messages, and you can choose to ignore them, and there can be some really severe consequences to that. You’re never too young to have something going on inside your body that you need to pay attention to.”
Jean is grateful that her doctors were listening carefully. She hopes you are too.
February is American Heart Month, and Jean is sharing her story as part of a public awareness effort leading up to New Bern’s Heart Ball on February 23rd. This year’s event is being held at the North Carolina History Center, where you can meet Jean and others who are sharing their Stories from the Heart.
Jean’s story and others are also being featured on the newbernheartball.org website and on the Heart Ball Facebook page. Others interested in sharing their Stories of the Heart can do so through the Heart Ball website or facebook page, or by sending an email to Rip Taggart at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story and photos from the Sun Journal.
A Personal Story.
Last in a series of personal stories that appear each Thursday in February as part of American Heart Month.
The Stories from the Heart this month have been special for me because I’ve had the opportunity to hear each of them first-hand. When Dixon Smith told his story to three hundred guests last Saturday at the Heart Ball, a hush came over the History Center. I’m excited that both Dixon and Ericka Howard-Foskey are now sharing their stories with everyone on the New Bern Heart Society’s new YouTube video channel.
There are so many other local stories from the heart that deserve to be told. Douglas Troop, a stubborn ex-military man survived six arterial blockages in 2010 only because his wife, daughter and doctors were even more stubborn than he is. Cheri Moyers is hoping medical research discovers an effective treatment for the rare genetic disorder that has caused serious heart problems and blindness in her family.
My wife Debbie and I have our own heart story. In 1984, our twin daughters were born in Houston six weeks early. During a routine checkup two years later, our pediatrician detected a very faint sound in Elizabeth’s heart. He immediately directed us to heart specialists who discovered that due to her premature birth, a fetal blood vessel had not closed fully. Left untreated, her condition (PDA) can lead to congestive heart failure and death.
Third in a series of personal stories that appear each Thursday in February as part of American Heart Month.
On a beautiful morning last May, Ericka Howard-Foskey felt lucky to be alive. Eight months earlier, she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Following twelve weeks of arsenic-based chemotherapy at Vidant Medical Center, this athletic young mother of two was back on her bike training for the Bike MS 150 in August. And this morning she and her husband Finell were riding together for the first time, talking back and forth as they pedaled out of their subdivision.
Thirty-six hours later, Ericka regained consciousness at Vidant Medical Center, her husband by her side. When Finell explained how she got there, Ericka couldn’t believe it at first. It’s still hard for her to believe now.
As they rode out of the subdivision, Ericka lost consciousness and appeared to be having a seizure. As Finell rushed to her, a teenage neighbor dialed 911. Finell took the phone and told the dispatcher what was happening. Their friend Kenny, an off-duty EMS technician, heard the 911 dispatch call and was there in three minutes, not knowing who it was. Ericka’s heart had stopped beating. Both Kenny and Finell administered CPR until the ambulance arrived two minutes later. Those EMS specialists used a defibrillator to restart Ericka’s heart, and rushed her to the CarolinaEast emergency room.
Because of Ericka’s previous medical history, it was decided to airlift her to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville where she was placed in a medically induced coma. Doctors there used a special machine to lower her body temperature, keeping her heart and brain from swelling while they watched for signs of brain activity. Finell and their two children spent two sleepless nights praying that Ericka wasn’t brain dead. As he pulled into Vidant’s parking lot the next morning, Finell received a call from the nurse. They had turned off the machine.
As she slowly began to regain consciousness, Ericka’s body had started to fight the machine, so the doctors turned it off six hours ahead of schedule. Twenty minutes later, with her husband at her side, Ericka opened her eyes and asked where she was and if her bike was ok.
The bike was fine, but the arsenic used for successful treatment of Ericka’s leukemia had also caused heart arrhythmia. During arrhythmia, the heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or irregularly due to a problem with the heart’s own electrical system. Most are harmless, but arrhythmias like Ericka’s can be life threatening.
To control her arrhythmias, Ericka’s doctors placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in her chest that constantly monitors her heart. “They told me it’s like a pacemaker on steroids”, she recalls. “If my heart needed it, it would shock me just like an external defibrillator. It took a while for me to get used to the fact that I have something that reminds me of Iron Man implanted in my chest.”
Nine months later, Ericka is back on her bike again. She credits her physical and mental recovery to the support she’s received from the team in her local cardiac rehabilitation program, and from an online therapy group for patients with ICDs.
Ericka knows how miraculous her journey has been over the last two years, and she is deeply grateful to every single person who has helped her along the way. “If they hadn’t responded in the first five minutes, I probably wouldn’t be here”, she says. “All the doctors and the nurses, all the workers in the hospital, my cardiologist, my oncologist…all the rest of the ‘-ologists’ that were involved in my journey. I just want to say thank you for all your hard work and your dedication.”
February is American Heart Month, and Ericka is sharing her story as part of a public awareness effort leading up to New Bern’s Heart Ball on February 23rd. This year’s event is this Saturday at the North Carolina History Center, where you can meet Ericka and others who are sharing their Stories from the Heart.
Ericka’s story and others are also being featured on the newbernheartball.org website and on the Heart Ball Facebook page.
Published in the Sun Journal
If you’re interested in sharing a story from your heart, please visit the Heart Ball website or facebook page, or send an email to Rip Taggart at email@example.com.
Lucky To Be Here... Twice!
Talk to Dixon Smith and he’ll tell you how lucky he is. He is lucky to have his wife and young daughter, lucky to have a good job and live here in New Bern and lucky to be alive.
Without the skills and support of heart specialists across North Carolina, this otherwise healthy man in his 30s would have died — twice. Dixon is happy to be here to share his story.