| | |
Life-Saving Heart Surgery Gives New Outlook, Energy to Busy Mom
Heart Disease in Women Sometimes Misdiagnosed, Left Untreated
To watch Stacy Lindbom striding after her dog Bella on their daily walk or lifting weights during her workout at the gym, you would never imagine that six months ago, she was undergoing cardiac bypass surgery to prevent an imminent heart attack.
Lindbom, 50, is a musician's wife and mother of two teenagers, and has worked full-time in catering for the Shoreline School District for the past 13 years. She is also the primary caregiver for her 80-year-old father, who suffers from a variety of illnesses and lives in a nursing home. Needless to say, Stacy Lindbom leads a very busy – and often stressful -- life.
For several years, Lindbom believed she was suffering from serious heartburn. Thinking it just came with age, she sought treatment in over-the-counter remedies. When they no longer seemed effective, she turned to Dr. Richard Tobin, a gastroenterologist at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. Armed with negative test results and a prescription for reflux medication, Lindlblom felt she had the problem under control.
Then one day at the dog park, Lindbom had a heartburn attack that seemed to travel all the way to her jaw. "I felt so strange," she says. "My jaw and head hurt, my arms were shaking and I was really stressed and scared." At a nearby urgent care facility, Lindbom was told her heart was having muscle spasms and was given valium. Based on this episode, Dr. Tobin sent Lindbom to Dr. Margaret Hall at Summit Cardiology, a group of specialty cardiologists affiliated with Northwest.
Dr. Hall recommended a stress echocardiogram, a test in which ultrasound pictures of the heart are taken before and after exercise. When the test results came back abnormal, Dr. Hall scheduled an angiogram, an x-ray dye test of the arteries. The angiogram showed that one of Lindbom's three main arteries was totally blocked, another had a severe blockage and a branch of the third artery also had a severe blockage. Lindbom's heart had been weakened by the impaired blood flow and was functioning at less than half its normal strength.
Dr. Hall immediately referred Lindbom to Dr. Gabriel Aldea, a cardiothoracic surgeon with Northwest Hospital partner UW Cardiothoracic Surgeons. Six days later, Lindbom went in for coronary bypass surgery.
"Stacy had a very complex case," says Dr. Aldea. "She was a smoker, anemic, had hereditary high cholesterol and a pretty weak heart." During surgery, Dr. Aldea performed a complicated bypass of three of Lindbom's blocked arteries, as well as an endarterectomy – essentially a resurfacing of the artery walls to remove the plaque blocking them.
"Dr. Hall made an excellent diagnosis," says Dr. Aldea. "I believe heart disease in women is somewhat neglected and needs to be examined." According to Aldea, women often endure more discomfort before they seek treatment and, because of an outdated bias that women don't do as well in surgery, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath or reflux may be overlooked as indicators of heart disease. "We need to take these symptoms seriously and not delay treatment," he says. "Stacy is proof of that. Despite the fact that she had a lot of risk factors and this was complicated surgery, she has done incredibly well."
Lindbom spent five days in the hospital following her procedure. "Everyone at Northwest was so wonderful, respectful and supportive," she says. "From the person who drew my blood to my team of doctors, I felt so very taken care of. People were right there for the smallest things. The whole places just feels good – even when you're sick."
Six months later, Lindbom has completed Northwest's extensive cardiac rehabilitation program and has returned to her life with gusto. Besides her walks with Bella, she works out at the gym six days a week. Not content to sit still in the evenings, she does sit-ups, bounces on her exercise ball and turns on the local oldies station and dances in her living room. And every Thursday, she loads up her car to delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors throughout her neighborhood.
She has quit smoking for good and, following post-surgery nutrition counseling, has changed her eating habits and lost weight. A self-proclaimed McDonald's hamburger lover, Lindbom still indulges every once in a while. Only now, she orders a plain hamburger, removes the top bun and has only mustard. "It's a small price to pay for how healthy I feel today," she says. She's also trying to change her teenagers' habits as well, insisting on wheat bread and brown rice. "They haven't learned the best eating habits from me, but that's changing," she says.
Lindbom says she feels better than she's felt in 20 years. "I'm in the best shape of my life and I have more energy than I've ever had. I want to live to be 100!"
"Surgery doesn't end with just fixing the plumbing," says Dr. Aldea. "It has to do with an attitude towards life, taking yourself seriously, taking charge of your life and your health and having the attitude that 'I can still turn things around.'"
"As strange as it sounds, having the surgery turned out to be a great experience," says Lindbom. "I'm a happier, stronger person and I realize that I have to take care of myself if I'm going to be around for my kids and my family. I wish I would have realized all that earlier."