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A silent threat

Woman's small symptoms sign of serious issue
Elaine Pfaff is happy she lost this particular dispute with her husband, Terry.

Because Pfaff sought medical help when she did, she avoided a potentially devastating heart attack and now has more energy to keep up with her grandchildren.

In late November, Pfaff started experiencing heartburn that wouldn’t subside, and, as she was preparing for bed, her left shoulder started hurting.

“My husband said: ‘You have a choice. Either you can get dressed before we go to the emergency room or you can go in your nightgown. Either way, we’re going,’” Pfaff said.

The 66-year-old Pfaff didn’t think the discomfort was a symptom of anything serious, but she quickly changed clothes and headed to the emergency and trauma center.

“We had a little argument,” Pfaff said, “and he won.” The doctor in the emergency and trauma center found nothing immediately wrong but recommended Pfaff follow up with a cardiologist as soon as possible.

The following Monday, Pfaff was examined and taken to the cardiac catheterization lab. There, ultrasound equipment attached to a long, flexible tube called a catheter was gently threaded into Pfaff’s heart through a blood vessel to get a
  Elaine Pfaff has incorporated exercise into her routine following a heart scare.
Elaine Pfaff has incorporated exercise into her routine following a heart scare.
closer look at the vital organ and the surrounding vessels.

Dr. Timothy Pansegrau
Timothy Pansegrau, MD
  Following the procedure, Pfaff heard—but didn’t want to believe—the bad news.

She recalls the doctor telling her she was going to need open-heart surgery. “Are you talking to the person next to me?” Pfaff questioned. “Of course, I was the only one in there, but I couldn’t believe it.”

Pfaff had blockages in four blood vessels around her heart. She was referred to Dr. Timothy Pansegrau, Sanford Health cardiovascular surgeon, who successfully performed Pfaff’s open heart bypass surgery that Wednesday.

“Dr. Pansegrau is one of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met in my life,” Pfaff said. “He saved my life.”

Before going into the emergency and trauma center that November night, Pfaff had no idea her heart was at risk, which isn’t uncommon. Many people ignore the signs of blockage and attribute the symptoms to their age or fitness level.

After surgery, Pfaff completed the cardiac rehabilitation program at Sanford Health, where she gradually increased her cardiovascular fitness and learned about heart-healthy living.

The biggest challenge Pfaff faced post-surgery was the restriction on driving for six weeks after the operation. The Pfaffs’ good friends Dennis and Betty Steele helped taxi Pfaff back and forth to cardiac rehab three times a week.

“We are so grateful for family and friends and neighbors who were there for us. We didn’t cook a meal for three weeks, and everyone was always checking on me,” Pfaff said. “I couldn’t have gotten into trouble even if I had wanted to.”

When Pfaff did get down, she used her nine grandchildren, who range in age from 1 to 11, as motivation during her recovery, and now she feels as good as ever.

“I’m doing wonderful,” Pfaff said. “I’m much, much healthier than I’ve ever been in my life. I would recommend Sanford Health to anyone. I’m so grateful I’m here because I want to be a great-grandmother someday.”

Click here for more information on Sanford Cardiology or call (701) 323-5202.


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