Finding a Better Way

Stephanie Tyler was running out of options.

Womens heart center patient enjoying life to the fullestBy the time she got diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), or irregular heartbeat, it was an emergency. She spent a week in the hospital being treated for congestive heart failure, and her cardiac electrophysiologist put her on medication. But eventually, it didn’t work anymore.

“I didn’t want to end up in the hospital again, but without medication the next step was surgery,” says the 56-year-old Novi resident. “I wanted to find another way.”

One morning, while contemplating her next steps, Stephanie saw Henry Ford cardiologist Deirdre Mattina, M.D., on the local news. Dr. Mattina was discussing the Women’s Heart Center, which focuses on providing life-changing support to women with heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors.

“The program’s based on prevention, which appealed to me,” Stephanie says.

An initial lifestyle evaluation

Stephanie made an appointment to see Dr. Mattina for an initial Lifestyle Enhancement Visit. This comprehensive, two-hour evaluation features a Bod Pod assessment to get an accurate body fat reading, a treadmill stress test to evaluate exercise capacity, nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian, a thorough cardiovascular risk factor assessment and a personalized nutrition and exercise plan.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Stephanie says. “I was hoping for a better evaluation of my heart condition and some recommendations, and I definitely got them. Of course, they are things you might not necessarily want to hear or follow.”

Taking the first steps

“I knew I needed to exercise more, and I had no real excuse, since I live near a park,” Stephanie says. “But the plan they gave me quantified it. I needed to exercise three to four times a week, for a total of 150 minutes.”

At first, it was difficult for Stephanie to fit in all of her prescribed exercise. She would look at her calendar at the beginning of each month and schedule it in for specific times, but sometimes life intruded and she would miss it. Eventually, she got into a better groove and made exercise part of her regular routine.

Changing her diet was even harder. The Women’s Heart Center team encouraged Stephanie to eat better, and to pursue a plant-based diet with more fruits and vegetables.

“The first month was a bit of a challenge,” Stephanie says. “But becoming more aware of what I was eating definitely helped.”

After she started the program, Stephanie took a vacation to visit family, and they noticed the change in her diet. When everyone was discussing what to eat for lunch, Stephanie had some leftover broccoli and rice, and they were surprised that this was all she was eating.

“I eat smaller meals, but more frequently,” Stephanie says. “Eating has become more of a lifestyle, and I’ve lost about 20 pounds in the past year.”

Addressing other health issues

One other area that Dr. Mattina wanted to work on was getting Stephanie’s blood pressure down. Several factors can contribute to high blood pressure, and changes in exercise and diet can definitely help.

Dr. Mattina also ordered a sleep test for Stephanie and she was found to have sleep apnea and put on a CPAP machine.

“I used to be so tired I would take naps every day for a couple of hours,” Stephanie says. “Now with the CPAP, I don’t take naps at all, my sleep at night is better and I’m not tired.”

All of these changes helped to reduce Stephanie’s high blood pressure. Dr. Mattina had told her upfront that she wanted to get it down to about 110.

“I thought there was no way that was going to happen,” Stephanie says. “Well, it’s happening.”

While Stephanie has seen many associated benefits from her healthy lifestyle changes, they have also worked in the treatment of the original condition that caused her to seek out the Women’s Heart Center: her atrial fibrillation. Studies have shown that regular aerobic activity can decrease AFib symptoms. In addition, addressing sleep apnea can help reduce strain on the heart that leads to AFib, so using the CPAP machine is an important part of her treatment plan.

Stephanie also was recently diagnosed with a high level of a special type of cholesterol known as Lipoprotein(a), or Lp(a), which increases the risk of forming fatty plaques in the arteries. She has been working with Dr. Mattina to complete additional work-up and determine other ways to reduce her cardiovascular risk.

Enjoying life to the fullest

“I’m grateful to Dr. Mattina and her team at the Women’s Heart Center,” Stephanie says. “I’ve come really far, and I’m doing so much better following the recommendations. Now I can focus on the things I enjoy the most.”

Including exercise. A year later, Stephanie’s life has been completely transformed, and she’s gone from dreading exercise to enjoying it.

“It’s pretty fantastic,” Stephanie says. “In the past, I had tried jazzercise, but now I can do much more in this class. This includes aerobics, balance exercises and strength training. I can definitely notice the difference. I can keep up with the class, and instead of rolling over on my side for some moves, I can just sit up. I can even do a side plank.”

She has more energy, especially after exercising, and can perform other activities of daily living with ease.

“I can pick up and carry a case of water into the house, which makes me very happy,” Stephanie says. “Before, it would be just too heavy for me.”

But her favorite activity? Hula hooping.

“When I come home each day, I’ll play some music low in the background, and do my hula hoop for about 10 minutes,” Stephanie says. “I love it, and it reminds me of where I was. There was no way I could do this in the past.”

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