Cardiovascular disease kills 450, 000 women every year, that equates to one every minute. We met a Sioux Falls woman who would have been one of them had she not gotten a heart transplant. We wrap up our weeklong series on women and heart disease.
Cathy Byington's heart trouble came to a head in February 2003. To this day it's hard to wrap her brain around everything that's happened since then.
Cathy says, "It's been an interesting and humbling journey to take."
In 2003, Cathy was at her daughter's house, Jessa Howe, babysitting her 2 year old grandson while Jessa and her husband Andy were at the hospital delivering their 2nd baby boy. After repeated trips up and down the stairs and lots of activity with the 2 year old. By they time she finally sat down she started blacking out. She called the hospital to tell Andy, but the nurse told her to call 911. She did. She opened the doors to the house thinking the reason she was sick was because of carbon monoxide poisoning. It wasn't. She spent a few days in the hospital. Her initial diagnosis of pneumonia turned out to be an enlarged heart. Her mitral valve was damaged beyond repair. A few days later she went back to the hospital, this time the Avera Heart Hospital to have open heart surgery to replace it. That was 6 years ago.
Cathy's Cardiologist Dr. Paul Carpenter with North Central Heart says, "If the mitral valve starts to leak then blood goes back in to the pulmonary artery and ultimately into the lungs and the patient is short of breath because it increases. Cathy had such severe mitral regurgitation that her heart was double or triple pumping blood. And that went on for a time. Her heart muscle got so stretched it wouldn't come go back to normal."
7 months later, Cathy was back at work as an Elementary School Secretary when she says she noticed, but ignored that she had trouble walking and talking because she was so short of breath. Getting ready in the morning was a lengthy chore because she would get so tired. Finally, she went back to the AveraHeartHospitalfor testing and her cardiologists told her she had congestive heart failure. Her health deteriorated. The winter of 2003/2004 she was in the hospital 7 plus times. Her kidneys were failing. She needed a transplant. Only 127 hospitals in this country perform heart transplants. Her hospital and 2nd home would be the University of Minnesota.
Cathy says, "My kids just got so used to me being sick."
Dr. Carpenter says, " Her heart muscle was irreversibly damaged before the valve replaced."
After extensive screening and testing, she was put on the list. She was told to pack a bag and be ready to go in 2 hours notice. After waiting for 2 years, she got the call.
Cathy says, "They said Cathy this is it. We have the perfect heart for you. She is 14 and local which meant it's healthier because it would spend less time in transport. They don't tell you who it is but the next day we read in the paper a 14 year old girl had been taken off of life support. Herr mother had died in the accident too. So, in my heart I kinda think that's who it is. I haven't contacted the family. It's hard to put down on paper what it's meant to your family when you what they went through."
Cathy's heart transplant surgery took 7 hours. When it was done they waited 2 hours and then put her new kidney it. She says that took about 2 hours. So not only did she get a heart and a kidney, she got a new perspective on life.
She says, "It's not catering to your self to take care of yourself. It's just wise."
And women we owe that to the people in our lives.
This April Cathy will celebrate the 2 year mark since her transplant surgeries. She says her heart and kidneys are functioning perfectly, although the anti-rejection drugs have created it's own set of health problems. She joins an elite group. There are only about 2,000 heart transplants done each year.