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An Ounce of Prevention

For Yvonne Nance, a free health screening turned out to be a lifesaving investment. After unexpected open heart surgery that required six bypasses, Yvonne is thrilled to be back to her regular, active routine.

Spunky, energetic, healthy and active. Those four words describe Yvonne Nance to a T. She exercises six days each week, eats a healthy diet and enthusiastically cheers on her grandchildren from the sidelines.

“It never entered my mind that I would have a heart issue, let alone a major one,” said Yvonne, who, in 2017, had open heart surgery that required six bypasses. “I never had any symptoms to speak of.”

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In 2016, not long after North Kansas City Hospital opened its Wellness Corner at the North Kansas City YMCA, Yvonne stopped in for a quick health assessment. “It was free for Y members, and it seemed like the right thing to do,” Yvonne said.

NKCH’s Community Health Nurse Leslie Martinez, LPN, staffs the Wellness Corner two days each week. She began monitoring Yvonne’s blood pressure, and cholesterol and blood glucose levels. After six weeks, she suggested Yvonne see her primary care doctor.

“My doctor ordered more lab work, and he didn’t like my results,” Yvonne said. “He suggested a calcium scoring cardio scan.” The 15-minute heart scan checks for plaque buildup in the arteries and can detect early signs of heart disease.

Cause for Concern

Yvonne’s calcium score was 888. Typically, any score 400 or higher means a large amount of plaque is developing within the coronary arteries. Her doctor referred her to Meritas Health Cardiology for more tests. Based on those results, Yvonne was scheduled for a heart catheterization. After the procedure, she received more concerning news.

“Yvonne had multiple blockages in multiple territories of her coronary arteries,” said Interventional Cardiologist Drew S. Allen, DO. “When we do a heart cath, we look to see if the patient’s anatomy is suitable for stenting. If not, we involve the surgeon and consider bypass surgery. In Yvonne’s case, this was clearly the best option.”

During Yvonne’s pre-surgery assessment, doctors discovered her left carotid artery was 95% blocked. It had to be cleared before she could have open heart surgery. “The situation was such a shock,” Yvonne said. “It just kept getting worse.”

“You can’t always rely on your body to tell you when something’s wrong. I never had any symptoms to speak of.”

A few days after her carotid artery surgery, Yvonne was ready for what she thought would be triple heart bypass surgery. As it turned out, she needed six bypasses.

From diagnosis to surgery, Yvonne didn’t have any of the classic symptoms of heart disease. “I had tingling in my hands sometimes, which I later learned can be a symptom,” she said. “But it always passed quickly. I had no idea something might be wrong. I was a walking time bomb.”

“The biggest symptoms to be aware of are chest pain, shortness of breath or that something has changed,” Dr. Allen said. “If something is different, and you don’t feel the same at the present time as you did several weeks or months ago, that’s when it’s time to get it checked out.”

Back At It

Today, Yvonne is back to her pre-surgery exercise program. “I worked slowly to get back to where I was before,” Yvonne said. “I walk at least two days a week. I take a low-impact aerobics class three days a week and a water aerobics class five days a week.”

She learned a few lessons along the way. “Your family medical history is very important,” Yvonne said. “I was adopted, so I had no idea of my history. Second, take advantage of health screenings. You can’t always rely on your body to tell you when something’s wrong."

An Ounce of Prevention