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Published on October 24, 2018

Expert Care Helped Her Overcome Her Heart Problems and Return to Her Active Life

Joyce Walters

79-year-old Joyce Walters of West Branch has dealt with an array of health-related issues off and on since the earliest moments of her life; but through it all, she’s kept an upbeat and positive attitude. 

Her grandmother delivered her at home when she was born prematurely, and she was born with a hole in the back of her heart. Amazingly, this never caused any serious problems when she was younger. According to the doctor who eventually discovered it, along with a heart valve that didn’t work, it’s extraordinary that she didn’t die at birth.

Almost in defiance of what would have been an exceedingly grim prognosis, Walters has led busy and fulfilling life. She married a kind man, gave birth to a daughter and two sons, and as of today has several grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Aside from her family, Walters also dedicates her time to multiple charitable causes in her community. She currently serves as the president of Adventist Community Services, is a volunteer coordinator for Michigan Disaster, and runs a women’s group in West Branch. When she’s not out and about, she sews quilts, crochets afghans and even makes plush animals for hospitalized patients.

About 30 years ago, Walters began experiencing breathing difficulties. She came down with pneumonia several times in quick succession. Eventually her primary care physician referred her to a cardiologist. It was then she discovered that she had pulmonary hypertension and was placed on medication to manage her blood pressure.

Aside from that incident, Walters was relatively healthy for several decades. Then, about four years ago, she had a relapse. She felt as though she couldn’t breathe and had to depend on a wheelchair to get around, a difficulty for someone with such an active lifestyle. When she sought medical help, she was referred to a team of specialists at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland. Her care team included Electrophysiologist Nilofar Islam, M.D., Cardiologist Susan Sallach, M.D., and Pulmonologist Subramanyam Yadam, M.D. Walters was impressed by the level of attention she received.

It was also at MidMichigan where Cardiovascular Surgeon Robert Jones, M.D., discovered her congenital heart defects. Over Memorial Day weekend that year, Walters ended up having open heart surgery to repair her defective heart valve.

Unfortunately, Walters’ troubles weren’t over yet. She still had difficulty breathing and walking, and her blood oxygen levels were low enough that she had to be kept on oxygen. Her doctors determined that she was suffering from permanent atrial fibrillation (aFib), a rapid and irregular heart rhythm coming from the top chambers of Walters’ heart.

About two years ago, Walters underwent a bi-ventricular pacemaker implantation followed by a cardiac ablation procedure. During this minimally invasive procedure, performed by Dr. Islam, Walters was put under conscious sedation while catheters were inserted into a blood vessel in her inner thigh and navigated up to her heart. The catheters were then used to deliver heat to cauterize specific areas of tissue to interrupt the abnormal electrical signals that result in a fast and irregular heart rhythm. Once this was complete, Walters was able to maintain normal heart rate through her pacemaker.

Dr. Islam and Dr. Sallach have continued to provide the highest level of care since her procedure. Walters is still on warfarin, which Dr. Sallach has been monitoring. Advanced Practice Provider Kathryn Esch, F.N.P., also keeps tabs on her pacemaker remotely from the Electrophysiology Device Clinic. “She has done fabulous since the procedure,” said Esch, adding that Walters has been a great patient because she follows their advice well.

Walters agrees. “I have had no problems whatsoever since then.” Going from a serious heart condition to excellent health, she certainly does seem blessed. When she returns to the clinic for her annual checkups, she said, “The doctors and staff always say, ‘Here comes our miracle girl!’”

In the meantime, Walters has felt better than she has in a long time. “I got my strength back,” she said. “I can walk again.” Her recovery has enabled her to return to her busy routine of community service. Just recently, she and her church organized an appreciation banquet for the 72 community center directors in the state, and she participated in a week-long getaway with 5,000 people from across the state. She also helped run a blood drive which collected 75 pints of blood and cooked in the Michigan Disaster mobile kitchen.

Along with God, Walters attributes her remarkable recovery to the excellent treatment from her care team at MidMichigan Health. “They saved my life, let me tell you that,” she said.

MidMichigan Health offers a full array of heart and vascular services, including open heart surgery, vascular surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. Those who would like additional information on MidMichigan’s comprehensive cardiovascular team may visit www.midmichigan.org/heart.

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