Insight Into Aortic Valve Disease: A Personal Journey

By Kindred Healthcare

You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Sally Meilun who has worked at Kindred Healthcare for nearly 23 years, has heart disease.

When you talk to Sally, it’s clear that a healthy lifestyle is important to her. She’s always been active, and she still is, but when she was in her 40s, she was diagnosed with aortic valve disease, a condition in which the valve between the left ventricle and the aorta doesn’t work properly.

“When you have heart disease, it’s not always obvious,” says Sally, who works as the Director of Travel and Relocation at Kindred’s Support Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

In fact, she was diagnosed after a routine doctor’s office visit. The nurse took her blood pressure once, checked it again, and consulted with the doctor. The doctor also checked her blood pressure twice. Sally knew something was wrong and asked what was happening. She was told she had a heart murmur and needed an echocardiogram, a test that uses sound waves to produce images of the heart, as soon as possible.

After the test, she was told she’d need surgery, but she got a second opinion from two other hospitals. While these specialists also recommended surgery, Sally’s local cardiologist was still skeptical. Sally underwent a cardiac catheterization to see how well her heart was working. Her arteries were “pristine,” she says, and there was no blockage.

Ultimately, the expert advice was to wait as long as possible before having valve replacement surgery. Typically, a replacement valve is good for 10 years, she says, and because she was so young when she was diagnosed, she knew that first surgery wouldn’t be her last. Now, nearly a decade later, Sally still has not had the surgery, but she is closely monitored by her cardiologist and is on medication. She says her success is due to the fact that she is a model patient who closely follows her doctor’s orders for diet and exercise.

Sally says she was “in denial” after the initial diagnosis, but that didn’t stop her from learning everything she could about aortic valve disease. She researched the disease on the American Heart Association website and other healthcare organizations’ websites, but she said reading the personal stories of others who had the condition, and how they described their experiences and reactions to their diagnosis and treatments, was also helpful.

Then and now, Sally says, the support of her family and friends has meant so much to her. Her husband brings her medication to her every day, and her father signed her up for a newsletter that keeps her up to date on the latest news and research on aortic valve disease. It’s also important to her that Kindred makes the health of its employees a priority, which makes it easier for her to focus on staying well.

With everything she’s learned since she was diagnosed, Sally understands how easy it is to miss the signs of heart disease, especially if, like her, you’ve lived a healthy life, and are eating well and exercising. Part of the problem, she says, is a lack of awareness, which is one of the reasons she’s proud that Kindred is a national corporate team partner of the American Heart Association. She sees this as a great way to help others learn about heart disease and it shows Kindred’s commitment to the health of both its patients and its employees. Her advice for others is to trust your instincts and if something doesn’t add up with your health, talk to your doctor.

By Kindred Healthcare