CASEY -- “I always thought it would be my husband who would have a heart attack—not me,” Casey resident Teri Burton said, reflecting on her husband’s high blood pressure and her relative good health. Yet, Teri survived four heart attacks in less than two months.
The 55-year-old eats healthfully and has taught both Zumba and Silver Sneakers exercise classes for two years. She’s been participating in exercise classes for eight years, and she regularly inspires others to become more active and to eat better.
In fact, in August 2016, Teri and her husband, Don, began eating a vegan diet in an effort to improve their health. Don’s blood pressure was too high and he was on the cusp of needing a higher dose of medication; Teri had been dealing with Type 1 diabetes for more than 25 years.
That Teri was at risk of having a heart attack made no sense to her.
“A heart attack wasn’t even on my radar,” she said. “No one in my family had cardiac issues, and my grandma lived to be 100.” Teri has since learned that family history is not always a precursor to heart disease. She now knows that she has a disorder in which her arteries fail to re-route blood flow around blockages to find open paths to the heart. Stress, it is believed, can be a contributing factor to heart attack by exposing the body to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones and changing the way blood clots. Diabetics are also at increased risk.
It was in November 2016 that Teri experienced her first of four heart attacks. “I was setting up at a craft show out of town, and I felt like I was getting the flu, which progressed throughout the afternoon. I was so sick that I couldn’t even drive home that evening, so I stopped at the nearest motel, took some NyQuil and went to bed. The next day I felt fine,” she said.
The Burtons have operated a craft business, The Robin’s Nest, for the past 18 years, and the fall season is both busy and stressful, Teri said. “When I look back, feeling that bad was probably the first sign. I think the heart attack was caused by a lot of stress.”
Not long thereafter, while teaching an exercise class, Teri experienced what she believes was a light stroke. Her speech was impaired and her arm fell to her side, but Teri pushed ahead.
“I continued with another class the next evening, and after class felt a tight knot in the middle of my chest,” she said. After a third class, Teri experienced tightening across her shoulder blades. Still unaware that she was experiencing a heart event, she taught a fourth class during which she became dizzy.
“It was the hardest class ever. I just tried to get through each song the best I could,” Teri said. Afterward, students said they recognized something wasn’t right with her. “I thought I had the flu and went home to lie on the sofa. I was more worried about the class participants…than about my own health,” she said.
The next afternoon, Teri saw her medical provider and learned that her blood pressure was 80/40. When the results of Teri’s blood work came through that evening, her provider advised her to go to the hospital because she was having a heart attack.
Prairie Heart Institute Cardiologist Amit Dande, MD, performed a cardiac catheterization by inserting a stent through her wrist and into an artery that was 95 percent blocked. Two more arteries -- blocked at 90 percent and at 75 to 80 percent -- needed stents, too, but they needed to be done later, due to complicating factors.
The next week, Teri met with Prairie Heart Institute Cardiologist Thomas Cahill, MD.
“Dr. Cahill is a sweetheart,” Teri said. “He listened to me. I was having a weird pain in the side of my lower back, and he said the symptoms of heart issues occur in many different places. Rather than dismissing the pain as a different problem, he sent me to the hospital right away, and the second catheterization was performed through the groin before the scheduled procedure could occur.”
Staff from the heart center called Teri each day to ask how she was progressing. “After a few days, I noticed a lump in my groin at the incision, so they got me in to see Dr. Cahill the next day,” she said. “It ended up being a pool of blood that had formed, and even though that is a common occurrence, they wasted no time in examining me.”
The following week Teri was still experiencing tightness in her chest, and the side pain returned.
“I took my nitro tablets as recommended, but upon standing, I collapsed to the ground and was taken by ambulance to Sarah Bush Lincoln,” she said. “The ambulance and emergency team were both exceptional. Dr. Cahill came in immediately to check on me and then had me stay in the hospital until Dr. Dande inserted the third stent the next day.
“Everyone was so kind and sensitive to my needs,” Teri said, explaining that following her first cath, her entire family came to her room to support her. Because she found that a bit overwhelming, the staff held back Teri’s family following her second and third catheterizations. This allowed her to recover more peacefully.
“They were very attentive to my needs: getting me drinks, providing pain medications, keeping me warm and describing everything they were doing. That was very comforting,” she said.
Dr. Dande updated Teri’s family on the exact procedure he was performing, answered their questions and updated them after the surgery. “My family was very impressed with him,” she said.
Teri attended METS (Monitored Exercise Testing Services) three times a week to see how her heart is going to react to exercise before jumping back into her busy teaching schedule.
“Dr. Cahill knows his stuff,” she said. “He talked with me about my vegan diet and recommended the diet for heart health, something I was basically already following. He stressed that had it not been for my active lifestyle and diet, my recovery would have been longer. He also told me that once I was back to Zumba, my students would have a hard time keeping up with me!”
Teri is passionate about bringing greater awareness to unsuspecting women like herself. “One in three women will die of heart disease,” she said. “We are told to have our mammograms and cancer screenings, but heart disease is harder to detect."
A talented artist, Teri was thrilled to be asked to draw the logo for Festival of Trees at Sarah Bush Lincoln this year, which is themed “A Heartfelt Christmas." Her design of a snowman hugging a heart is prominently displayed on all signage, and a life size cutout of her snowman will adorn the entry to this year’s event.
Net proceeds from the festival will support the foundation’s capital campaign, “Life ... Nothing Beats It,” which raises funds for the cardiology expansion project that will include a new heart center and 21 new private patient rooms.
"I feel the heart center at Sarah Bush Lincoln will bring more awareness to this problem and help educate women, since the signs of heart disease are so easily thought to be common aches and pains. I have always been very happy with the treatment at Sarah Bush Lincoln, and the heart center is an exceptional addition to the hospital.”
Teri understands that just because her arteries are functioning well, she’s not out of the woods. “Dr. Cahill told me that this is just a Band-Aid on my heart,” she said. Therefore, Teri is eliminating sources of stress, enjoying people and activities that bring her joy, and continuing her fitness regimen and vegan diet.
“I must acknowledge the ladies in my exercise classes,” Teri said. “While helping them to become stronger and keep their independence, they have helped me continue with my fitness goals. Thanks to the METS program, I am incorporating more heart-healthy exercises into my classes, as well as sharing what I have learned about heart disease.
“At the beginning of my heart complications, I was unsure of my future,” Teri said, “but with the help of the Prairie Heart Institute at Sarah Bush Lincoln and their amazing doctors, I am more aware and reassured of the care I will continue to receive from this amazing medical team.”