3 Things I Didn’t Know About Heart Disease Until It Happened to Me

Wondering what life is like with heart disease? These three patients share their stories.

For some, heart disease is sudden and comes as a shock. For others, heart disease is a lifelong journey. Three patients, two diagnosed during adulthood and one as an infant, share their stories and what they’ve learned along the way.

You are your own advocate.

For Kirk Shenberger and his wife Jan, Kirk’s heart disease was a shock. After a routine back surgery, Kirk spiked a fever of 102 at home and became delirious.

Jan was concerned and called the doctor’s office only to be told by a Physician’s Assistant that a fever after surgery was normal. “I really wanted the PA to say to me to get him to the hospital now,” Jan said. “He didn’t say that to me, but I [heard] a voice inside of me to take him to the hospital now.”

Despite the PA’s assurances that Kirk would be just fine, Jan took him to the ER anyway. Once there, they discovered he was having a heart attack. An emergency angiogram showed that two of his arteries were severely blocked.

“The cardiologist successfully put a stent in my husband’s artery and saved his life,” Jan said. “I know that if I wouldn’t have listened to that voice, Kirk would have not lived through that night.

Life with heart disease can be normal.


Three days after Whitney was born, doctors noticed she didn’t have a pulse in her legs. They weren’t overly concerned, but they decided to check her heart anyway. And they were glad they did.

Whitney had severe aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve that inhibited blood flow. She immediately underwent surgery and eventually had three open heart surgeries by the time she was 16 years old.

Now in her late 20s, beside yearly cardiologist visits and echocardiograms, Whitney’s life is about as normal as it gets. Her cardiologist says she has at least one more open heart surgery in the future, but stand her next to any other young woman, and you probably wouldn’t see much of a difference.

“My parents did a fantastic job of making my childhood and teen years normal,” Whitney said, “and adulthood has been your pretty typical American experience as well. I went to college, got a job, got married, and had a baby. Even my pregnancy was smooth sailing, and that’s always kind of up for grabs with heart patients whether it’s going to affect their heart or not. Heart patients all have different experiences, but I think overall, you can find ways to work with your limitations and still live a great life.”

Finding the right doctor is essential.

Jamie Senior was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy at 25 years old. He was on the phone with his boss when he suddenly had difficulty breathing. The next thing he knew, he was waking up on the floor surrounded by EMTs. When Jamie became unresponsive over the phone, His boss had the foresight to call 911 and send them to his house.

After a visit to the ER, he was released and told to see his doctor immediately for an echocardiogram. He was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and given medicine that was supposed to help. But when Jamie never got back to feeling normal, he kept searching for a doctor who offered more effective treatment.

After going through several doctors and different forms of treatment, Jamie finally met up with his current cardiologist. This doctor recommended a brand new form of treatment that wasn’t out of trial yet, and even though it took several tries, the treatment proved successful.

Although Jamie has to have regular visits to monitor his pacemaker and occasionally update the device, he says his overall health is much better and he attributes it to finding his cardiologist and his cardiac electrophysiologist, another doctor on his care team.

“Between [these two doctors],” says Jamie, “they take the time they need to spend with you in your visit, it’s not about in and out, rushing you, getting your copay, getting the money. They make sure that they take the time and find what they need to find and check you out completely, answer your questions, make sure you understand what’s going on with your heart.”

Jamie Senior was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy at 25 years old. He was on the phone with his boss when he suddenly had difficulty breathing. The next thing he knew, he was waking up on the floor surrounded by EMTs. When Jamie became unresponsive over the phone, His boss had the foresight to call 911 and send them to his house.

After a visit to the ER, he was released and told to see his doctor immediately for an echocardiogram. He was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and given medicine that was supposed to help. But when Jamie never got back to feeling normal, he kept searching for a doctor who offered more effective treatment.

After going through several doctors and different forms of treatment, Jamie finally met up with his current cardiologist. This doctor recommended a brand new form of treatment that wasn’t out of trial yet, and even though it took several tries, the treatment proved successful.

Although Jamie has to have regular visits to monitor his pacemaker and occasionally update the device, he says his overall health is much better and he attributes it to finding his cardiologist and his cardiac electrophysiologist, another doctor on his care team.

“Between [these two doctors],” says Jamie, “they take the time they need to spend with you in your visit, it’s not about in and out, rushing you, getting your copay, getting the money. They make sure that they take the time and find what they need to find and check you out completely, answer your questions, make sure you understand what’s going on with your heart.”

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