After experiencing her first heart attack at 47, Janice Zeimer knew she had to make important health changes to reduce her risk for a second one.She decided to start with her weight, and lost 200 pounds with weight loss surgery. However 10 years later, Zeimer was diagnosed with another heart condition: atrial fibrillation.
AFib is a condition that makes the heart beat irregularly, causing chest pain and fatigue. It can also increase the chances of a stroke. According to the CDC, 12.1 million people in the United States will have AFib by 2030. The most common risk factors include age, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and heart failure.
Zeimer’s heart doctor put her on blood thinners to prevent stroke, a first-line treatment for AFib. However, she noticed her heart rate would go up to 130 after a few minutes on the treadmill, which she attributed to being inactive. She also experienced bleeding from the blood thinners.
“I would get up, make my bed and diva-up a little,” said Zeimer, now 71. “A short time later, all I could do was lay down in the center of the bed and sleep; my life had become isolated.”
Zeimer started seeing Dr. Samir Patel, an interventional cardiologist after a friend told her about a device that offers patients with AFib an alternative to taking blood thinners.
“They got me in immediately and evaluated me for the procedure,” said Zeimer. “I want to know everything, so they explained it in layman’s terms, not medical jargon.”
Last July, Zeimer had the WATCHMAN procedure at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay. During the one-hour procedure, a catheter is inserted through the groin to place the device in the heart's upper left chamber, where blood clots commonly form. The device has a metal frame shaped like a parachute that acts as a filter to prevent blood clots from leaving the heart and entering the bloodstream.
Zeimer said she has always felt protected and safe at the hospital. She spoke highly about the nurses, techs, doctors, and even the front desk staff, always had a friendly face, and provided guidance when needed.
Since the surgery, she has been off three medications and, more importantly, back to her social life. She also has not experienced any symptoms from AFib.
“The next day, I felt like a million bucks,” said Zeimer. “It was a wonderful experience that gave me back quality in my life.”
Zeimer encourages other women to talk to their doctors about the symptoms they are experiencing. She said women often make excuses when they don’t feel well. She uses her medical journey to help others and has spoken at events including American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women.
“You know your body better than anyone; it’s important to tell your doctor the truth,” Zeimer said.
Zeimer volunteers weekly as a counselor at St. Andrew Christian Care Center, Inc. She also enjoys spending time with her grandchildren encouraging them to give back to others. Zeimer follows up with Dr. Patel in hopes that she can continue volunteering for years to come.
To learn more about getting advanced heart care close to home, visit ascension.org/BayHeart.