A medical intern changed the course of Patty Borkowski’s life. During a routine check up she was examined by “an intern who was raring to go and practice being a doctor. He kept listening to my heart beat and didn’t look happy. I thought it was just the over-active intern trying to find something wrong with me.” But then Patty’s regular doctor came in for a listen.
“She listened, frowned at me and said, “you have an irregular heart beat. At the time, ironically, I was working for the American Heart Association and even though I knew how common an irregular heart beat was, I promptly said, “No I don’t’.”
An EKG confirmed Patty had atrial fibrillation, the most common irregular heart beat and she was referred to an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythms.
Patty was unaware of any problem prior to her check up, but soon discovered she was in afib almost constantly. She wore an event monitor for a month and was to push the button every time she felt an afib episode. “I felt afib so often. The easiest place for me to feel my pulse and figure out what my heart was doing was in my neck, so I thought I was going to have permanent indentations in my neck from my fingers being there. I would actually alternate sides thinking I was going to get an old lady neck before my time just feeling for my afib.”
“My kids were 11 and 13 at the time, and they were fascinated by the event monitor’s phone calls to send information. Of course when the monitor is talking over the phone it makes a very loud noise, which interrupted their TV, so it wasn’t much fun anymore!”
Patty’s afib was so constant, and her pulse rate would go so high (higher than the monitor could track) that her doctors were very concerned.
“I still didn’t have any symptoms,” she said. But the toll on her heart was enough to make the doctors consider scheduling an ablation. However, after consulting with a doctor from the Cleveland Clinic, they determined her afib was related to her high blood pressure. Her doctor was quite sure if her blood pressure was under strict control, her afib would stop.
“So he told me very promptly to lose weight, to start exercising, and to have absolutely no caffeine at all. This was three weeks before Easter when I’d already bought all the chocolate!” Determined to make a difference in her health, Patty changed her lifestyle, managed to lose 52 pounds, and began to “exercise like a fool -- there is nothing like the motivation of your own health to get you moving.”
Fortunately for Patty, her hard work and treatment plan paid off. “The morning after I started taking my third hypertension medication, the atrial fibrillation stopped and it has never started again.”
“With being a good girl, exercising and doing all of the good things, and primarily taking the medication, I haven’t had any more problems.”
Patty’s advice to women looking to change their lifestyles: “When you start making changes, you feel in control of what you are doing, versus feeling out of control. For me, that makes all the difference in the world.”
“Just take that baby step of starting one thing to improve your health. Start, and you will so quickly feel the pride of accomplishment, and will then want to do more. Don't wait for the beginning of a month, a Monday, even the next day - just do it. You also quickly learn how easy it is, and wonder why you didn't start long ago.”
High Blood Pressure is known as the “Silent Killer” because there are no symptoms.
According to the American Heart Association, nearly one in three adults has high blood pressure, but many people don’t know they have it.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney failure. A simple, painless test is the only way to determine if your blood pressure is high.
Most hospitals, clinics, churches, pharmacies and local health departments offer free blood pressure screenings. Yet, many people have out-of-control blood pressure, doing damage to their bodies, for years without knowing it.
Don’t hide your head in the sand. Determine if your blood pressure is high and work with your doctor to get, and keep, it under control.
The Patient's Perspective is a series of recorded teleconferences and articles presented by the Embrace Your Heart Wellness Initiative and hosted by Eliz Greene. Each teleconference focuses on a specific challenge facing women with heart disease. For more information visit www.EmbraceYourHeart.com
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