When Lise Thacker was 19 years old, her family doctor discovered a heart murmur during a routine physical exam. Through annual check-ups, including a stethoscope check, her condition was monitored, giving Lise peace of mind.
With that assurance, Lise was able to enjoy a normal life; however, she suffered from asthma and hay fever, making it sometimes difficult for Lise to know whether her symptoms, including shortness of breath were related to her valve or asthma and hay fever.
At the age of 50, Lise was referred to a cardiologist. Following further testing, including a stress test and CT scan, she was told her aortic valve was calcified and regurgitating, but could be fixed. With this new information, she decided to wait for the surgery, feeling like things were manageable. After all, she was still able to jog a few kilometers twice a week.
A few years later, at the age of 56, Lise’s condition was deteriorating. She was having more problems breathing which impacted her ability to exercise and complete simple tasks. Sometimes she felt light-headed just walking around the house.
An angiogram confirmed her aortic valve was functioning at only 33 percent. Lise would need a valve replacement and bypass surgery due to a blockage in her coronary arteries.
Lise and her surgeon considered two choices for her new heart valve: tissue or mechanical. Lise preferred the mechanical valve for its longer life span. With the mechanical valve she would have to take a low dose of warfarin to keep her blood thin but would be able to use a coagulometer at home to measure her own INR – a measure of the time it takes her blood to clot. Given Lise’s relatively young age and fitness level, her surgeon agreed the mechanical valve was a good choice for her.
Around the same time, Lise’s sister Eveline had been experiencing intermittent chest pain. On Lise’s urging, Eveline saw her doctor and was soon told she would require urgent cardiac bypass surgery.
On the day Lise was admitted for her procedure, her two daughters noticed their aunt Eveline’s name on the surgical board. Was it truly her? During the pre-op visit, the surgeon confirmed the back-to-back procedures were indeed the two sisters and reassured Lise that Eveline would be ok. The sisters got through their recovery successfully, encouraging each other along the way. Lise was able to rehab at home using her elliptical machine and an exercise bike.
Now 61 years old, Lise became a grandmother. Her grandbaby is a pure joy, she says. Lise exercises regularly with moderate intensity. That allows her to cycle each year to raise money for kids’ cancer. In 2021, she exceeded her previous yearly distances, covering 454 km. In 2022, she celebrated her fifth cycle challenge, her way of paying it forward.
Lise encourages all women to listen to their symptoms, not minimize their health or feel like they are wasting a doctor’s time. Women’s symptoms can manifest differently and should be investigated. The best way to do that is to see their doctor regularly and ask for a stethoscope check.