Mary Powell eyes the tomatoes at the Hickory Farmers Market and makes a
beeline to the vendor, hoping to buy plenty to store through the winter
for use in a wide variety of low-sodium, heart healthy recipes. In talking
with this glowing 55 year old mother from Conover, it’s difficult
to process the magnitude of her illness. Mary’s heart is failing
and she is doing everything she can to buy time while waiting on a transplant.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to feel happy or sad,”
says Mary contemplating what it will be like to hear that a heart is available.
“I know that will mean that another person lost their life.”
She explains that it has been a long six-year journey from the time she
first learned that she has chronic heart failure. “I had my first
major heart attack 6 years ago at the age of 49. Surgeons performed a
heart catheterization then, but two days later, I needed an emergency
triple bypass. Then, I was informed that, because of the degree of my
heart failure, I am a candidate for a heart transplant.”
With heart failure, a weakened heart cannot pump sufficiently to meet the
body’s need for blood and oxygen. As a result, Mary gets extremely
fatigued and short of breath, making it hard to get around. A former machine
operator, Mary is now unable to work and considered disabled. “If
you ask a doctor ‘what is heart failure’, they tell you it’s
a series of deteriorating symptoms related to the failing heart,”
said Mary. “If you ask me, I say some days I am so sick, sick to
the point that I can hardly get up, get going or start my day. Some days
are fairly ok – but getting shortness of breath is extremely anxiety
Mary’s name was added to the heart transplant registry in April 2016.
Doctors consider many factors in evaluating patients for a heart transplant.
This includes analysis of Mary’s liver and kidney function to determine
whether or how much poor blood flow is hampering the vital functions of
these organs. Patients are ranked, with highest priority given to the
sickest. Mary said that her doctor told her that the call for transplant
could come at any time – as early as a few weeks after being put
on the list, or it could be several years from now.
“Information is power,” says Mary. “So, I’ve made
it my mission to learn everything I can about heart failure and prepare
for a transplant.” Meanwhile, she is also doing everything she can
to stay well and avoid numerous trips to the emergency department. Central
to this mission, Mary started participating in the CVMC Heart Failure
Support Group and going to Catawba Valley Cardiology’s Heart Failure
Clinic, an alternative to repeated emergency room visits and a more proactive
management option for her heart failure symptoms.
Mary was one of the first heart patients to attend the aptly named support
group – “Turning Failure Into Success”. At the August meeting she treated other participants to a bowl
of her homemade low sodium turkey noodle soup while the group listened
to a presentation about advance directives and palliative care. At these
support group meetings, CVMC provides easy (and free) access to heart
failure specialists, empowering participants with resources and information
including medication and symptom management as well as recommended lifestyle changes.
“I started keeping a binder when I began the transplant evaluation
process,” Mary says. “In this binder I keep details about
my past hospitalizations and procedures; all of my medications; insurance
claims; contact information for all of my providers (this includes doctors,
nurse practitioners, social workers, dieticians, and psychologist among
others); helpful details for my primary and major caregivers and even
gift cards to give my caregivers in case they need any incidentals at
nearby stores when I am hospitalized during the transplant.”
Mary is a testament to the growing needs of all heart failure patients.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, an estimated
5 million Americans have congestive heart failure and the numbers are
on the rise. This year, CVMC received Heart Failure Accreditation status
from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC), recognizing the
hospital’s commitment to provide patients ways to help manage heart
failure so that they can enjoy a better quality of life despite their
disease. To learn more about the heart failure services and programs available
and how CVMC can help you manage your condition please contact
Catawba Valley Cardiology at 828.326.2354.
Although there is no cure for heart failure, many patients, like Mary,
learn to live full lives even with the condition. CVMC’s dedicated
heart failure clinic,
the only one in the area, provides preventative care for patients experiencing heart failure symptoms.
The clinic offers an alternative to an emergency room visit for patients
coping with heart failure symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling
Turning Failure Into Success, CVMC’s
Heart Failure Support Group meets the first Tuesday of every three months (February/May/April/November),
from 5:30pm to 6:30pm at the Health First Center located on Tate Blvd.
next to Catawba Valley Imaging Center. Come and learn how to successfully
manage lifestyle changes to promote better living with heart failure!
This program is free! All of those living with heart failure, their family
members and caregivers are welcome to attend! For more information, please
contact Amber Hice RN, BSN, Heart Failure Coordinator, at 828.326.3997.