Catching her breath
The two block walk to work, a routine part of Barbara Etheridge’s day, was wearing her out.
“Of course the symptoms gave me a clue I’d better get checked,” said Barbara, a 66-year-old from Moyock, NC.
Her physician scheduled tests revealing a not uncommon problem of aging: a mitral valve defect prevented her heart from pumping efficiently. Surgery was in her future.
The mitral valve is the gatekeeper for the heart. As blood makes its journey through the body, it flows through the lungs and picks up a fresh supply of oxygen. The mitral valve opens, allowing the oxygen-rich blood into the heart, and then closes, sealing the chamber.
Barbara’s problem was that her "cutoff valve" had an imperfect seal. Called “regurgitation,” blood was leaking back into the lungs. This forced her heart to pump more blood with each contraction to push the same amount of blood forward. The heart can compensate for this overload for months or years, but eventually begins to fail.
“I decided to go ahead with the surgery while I still felt healthy. What if I had another life-threatening disease pop up?” Barbara wondered. “That would make the surgery worse.”
Her doctor referred her to cardiovascular surgeon Jeffrey Rich.
“He came highly recommended and had a good bedside manner,” Barbara said. “I came to my appointment with a list of questions, and he was thorough answering them.”
The hospital of her choice
During her evaluation Dr. Rich asked Barbara where she wanted to go for surgery.
“I had no hesitation: the Sentara Heart Hospital. It was the only place I would want to be. It made sense because they are specialists, and the nurses are well trained for that specific thing,” she said.
Barbara sailed through the procedure.
“The nurses said that my muscles being strong from exercise made surgery go easy,” she shared.
One of the unexpected bright spots in her recovery was Barbara’s chance to get to know her caregivers. She refers to them as “her little angels.”
“The staff was 100 percent over the top with courtesy and concern,” she said. “As busy as they were, they took time to talk to me about other things than surgery. The very first person I met in registration – Sandy – was such a sweet lady. After surgery she came up and checked on me. When people treat you that way, it gives you a good feeling the minute you walk in the door.”
Prior to surgery, Barbara had been to Sentara for a few tests and her experiences then were equally reassuring.
“One time my girlfriend and I were in the wrong place, and this person walked us all the way to the office we were looking for,” Barbara said. “That makes you feel special.”
Today Barbara is immersed in her cardiac rehab program, looking to regain her stamina. “It feels good to get back to exercising. I used to walk two miles a day. Sometimes we would do four. I look forward to getting back to that,” Barbara said.
Not satisfied with three days of scheduled rehab each week, Barbara impresses her husband, Donald, by augmenting it with sessions on her treadmill and walks with friends.