Janet's Story

Janet, heart failure patient

Janet, heart failure patient

If you're looking for Janet these days, you might find her cavorting with her grandkids, walking around the lake, bicycling or paddle-boating, or helping a neighbour. Her daughter describes Janet as a "ball of energy."

Yet several years ago, Janet was waiting to die. Janet suffered from severe heart failure. Janet credits the resurgence in her health to the combination of her Medtronic InSync ICD® System, later replaced with a Concerto®, both of which combine cardiac resynchronisation and defibrillation therapies in a single device, and her medications. "It's given me back my life," she says.

A Walk Across the Room Took Away Janet's Breath

There was a time when Janet appeared to be the epitome of health. She kept active, taking aerobics classes and walking three miles a day around the lake she lives on. Janet tried to eat right. Over time, however, warning signs appeared. Janet felt breathless as she read aloud. She struggled in an aerobics class that had been easy just weeks earlier. Then Janet could no longer walk around the lake without stopping.

But Janet wasn't concerned about herself. Her husband was dying of cancer and Janet focused on attending to his needs. Back then, she attributed her exhaustion mostly to the emotional strain she bore. Now, she's not sure. "It's very confusing to know what was physical and what was emotional," she says.

She had little energy. "Because we live on two levels, if anyone came over, they would have to do all my running for me." In time, Janet says, "I got so bad I couldn't walk across the room without being out of breath. I spent a lot of time in denial over being in heart failure."

Janet Was Told She Needed a New Heart

Her family insisted that she see a doctor and Janet finally gave in. After failing a stress test, she was hospitalised and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a medical term used to describe her heart disease. She was suffering from heart failure. Janet's ejection fraction – the amount of blood the heart pumps out – had fallen to 16 percent. (A healthy heart has an ejection fraction of 50 percent or greater.)

Janet's doctor prescribed medications, but offered little or no hope. "He said to go home. There was nothing they could do for me except a heart transplant," Janet recalls. "They told me to enjoy every day."

Then her husband died. Janet put her financial affairs in order, because she didn't think she had much time left. "I didn't think I had a year to live," says Janet.

Janet's family was not willing to passively stand by and watch Janet die. Her daughters researched the Internet and read up on possible treatment options for Janet. They gave Janet phone numbers to call.

Medicines Helped

In early August, Janet saw the cardiologists. She was scheduled to receive her device – a Medtronic InSync ICD System – in several weeks. The InSync ICD combines cardiac resynchronisation therapy with a defibrillator that protects against sudden cardiac arrest. In the meantime, Janet's doctors started changing her medications and dosages. "They had been really surprised how little medicine I was on," says Janet.

The new medication strategy proved successful. By late September, when she was due to receive her InSync ICD, she could walk a mile on the treadmill. Her doctors didn't know how much implanting the device would help because she was already doing so well, she recalls. But because of her heart problems, they said, "If anybody deserves a pacemaker, you do."

Some people get a boost from their implant right away, says Janet. "They can tell the difference when they wake up."

Not Janet. Her lengthier implant procedure had exhausted her. Her arm hurt. She felt tired and weak. She was convinced she had made a mistake by getting the implant. "I was extremely discouraged."

Living a "Normal Life"

Janet's family encouraged her to give it time. Sure enough, Janet's health improved slowly and steadily. In January, Janet drove by herself to Florida. During the first month there, she walked a mile on the beach. By April, Janet was walking five miles.

For the first time in months, Janet felt energy and enthusiasm for life. She got dressed up for church. She had her hair done. People commented on the improvement in her colouring, which they now told her "used to be so gray." Now they said, "Wow, you look good!"

Janet believes that the combination of cardiac resynchronisation therapy and medications have restored her independence and her life. "I don't have to be waited on. I can buy my own groceries without being tired. I can drive and do things for other people. I can play with the grandkids and walk the beach."

Janet advises others who receive this therapy to be patient. "Give it a chance, do what the doctors say. Take your medicines. If anyone's considering having this procedure, and if they need it as badly as I did, I would really think about being independent again."

Feeling "Wonderful"

The most important benefit of cardiac resynchronisation therapy for Janet? "To live a normal life," she says. "I shopped at 9 o'clock last night with my grandkids and went to dinner. A year ago, I could not have done that. I can do just about everything they can do."

Janet is enjoying life again. "Sitting here right now, I would not know I had one problem in the world," says Janet. "I feel wonderful."

This story recounts the experience of a patient who is receiving cardiac resynchronisation therapy for moderate to severe heart failure with ventricular dysynchrony. Medtronic, Inc. invited this person to share her story candidly. As you read it, please bear in mind that these experiences are specific to this particular patient. Results vary; not every response is the same.

This story reflects one person's experience. Not every person will receive the same results. Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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