“Thank God I got here when I did,” 32-year-old Stacy Rollins of Napoleon, Ohio, said during a recent checkup at the Heart and Vascular Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center.
A month ago, UT Health cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Mark Bonnell saved her life by implanting a battery-powered blood pump inside her chest to take over for her failing heart.February is American Heart Month, and Rollins is sharing her story to encourage other younger women to take care of themselves and pay attention to early warning signs of heart failure.
“I was in pretty good shape, but I had been under a lot of stress,” Rollins said. “I started to feel terrible. I couldn’t breathe at night. I couldn’t go up the stairs. I was coughing. I thought it was pneumonia.”
Turned out her heart was barely pumping. The cough wasn’t a cold. The fatigue and breathlessness were symptoms of heart failure, which can become rapidly fatal.
In Rollins’ case, she had familial idiopathic cardiomyopathy — a weakening of the heart muscle that is inherited with unknown cause.
Her only chance of survival was a Left Ventricular Assist Device, commonly known as an LVAD. It is a mechanical device that helps pump blood to the rest of the body.
LVADs can serve as a bridge to a heart transplant or, in rare cases, as therapy for a patient as her heart heals. The longest a patient has lived with an LVAD is eight years and counting.
“Nationally, about 1 percent or less of these LVADs are taken out for recovery,” Bonnell said. “Here at UTMC, we have actually taken out almost 10 percent of them.”
UT Health cardiologist Dr. Samer Khouri said heart disease risk factors include a poor diet, lack of exercise and stress.
“This is what you call low-intensity stress that is continuous, unfortunately,” Khouri said. “The cause can also be genetic.”
Khouri said women, especially younger women, more often ignore or mistake symptoms of heart failure.
“This is an age where many have children,” Khouri said. “They are so busy. They don’t have time for themselves.”
With more women dying from heart disease than breast cancer and lung cancer combined, Rollins wants others to know she is alive and healthy today because she responded to the subtle symptoms of heart failure and asked for help.
“I am grateful for my doctors and my life,” Rollins said.