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My Story - Jill Duis

by Pamela M. on Friday, September 14, 2012

Jill Duis Nebraska

I have walked with heart disease my entire life.  I was born with a complete heart block, meaning the top part of my heart didn't communicate with the bottom part, which meant my heart would only beat 40 beats per minute – about half the normal rate. 

My parents were told to take me home, not let me cry,  and I would probably only live a week.  They began their search by taking me to different doctors.  Finally frustrated, they took me to an old "country" doctor who said "It sounds like you should just let her grow up."  And so they did.  I grew up not knowing that other kids didn't have leg cramps when they ran or that you were supposed to be able to run long distances without stopping.  I lived my life with very few problems until I ran up a flight of stairs in college and nearly fainted. 

A trip to the ER led to a cardiology consult.  The only option:  a pacemaker.  I was 21.  My husband and I wanted to have a family and this was the only way I would be able to tolerate a pregnancy and delivery.  Life was good after that.  For the first time, my feet were warm and I had such energy.  We were blessed with three children. During this time, I burned through about 5 different pacemakers.  Raising a family, I just kept wearing them out! 

As a nurse, I have always had a keen interest in improving cardiovascular care.  When I heard there was thrombolytic therapy to treat stroke patients, I knew we had to get on board with that.  I did the research, worked with the company rep for the thrombolytic and began educating the emergency department staff and physicians.  It was a huge undertaking and by the time the first patient was treated, I knew we had done the right thing.  It was extremely moving to see our first patient do so well. 

In the fall of 2000, I came home after completing 2-twelve hour weekend shifts.  My husband had prepared supper and we sat down with our family to eat.  Midway through the meal, while I was telling a story, I dropped my fork into my lap and began to speak gibberish and drool from the side of my mouth. At 45, I was having a stroke.  My husband took me back to the same hospital I had just left.  I was evaluated and eventually treated with a thrombolytic. 

I will never be able to express how grateful I am for the research that developed this drug.  For me, the difference was life-altering.  I not only survived – I regained nearly all my function.  I was determined to remain a contributing member of society.  Rehabilitation was the hardest work I have ever done, but eventually I was able to return to my nursing position in the emergency department.  It was an emotional homecoming for everyone involved! 

A couple years after my stroke, my cardiologist informed me that a valve in my heart needed repair, which lead to my first open heart surgery.  I was lucky.  So many more have gone through so much more.  I sailed through the surgery, but 6 weeks after surgery had another "mini-stroke."  I was determined to fully recover.  I did and once again returned to my family and to working full time. 

I have continued to have additional medical devices, a total of eight so far, and the last three have had to be AICDs (pacemaker/defibrillators).  I have benefited from research and medical developments sponsored by the AHA.  There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to the AHA for their continued efforts in the advancement of cardiovascular disease awareness and care.