About this sponsorship: In honor of the 60th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic ascent of Mount Everest, Patch and Grape-Nuts are teaming up to highlight those who inspire people around them to climb their own mountains. This story originally ran Feb. 5.
Just because you can't do something today, doesn't mean you can't do it some day.
Ask Sue Bowers.
Bowers, a fitness and health buff, has a bicuspid aortic valve disease she inherited from her father. She had always wondered if she carried that potentially debilitating trait.
Before the difficulties began in 2010, Bowers, now 66, would work out at Old Town Sport & Health most every day. The commercial and interior designer would leap up flights of stairs to her workplace at an architectural firm on Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria. But it’s something she never took for granted.
She knew of her father’s heart anomaly. Her worries were confirmed one day when she became short of breath as she went up the stairs.
“For many years I just worked out and I knew I had it,” she said, referring to her heart’s structure. “My body compensated through working out and being in good shape.”
But eventually, open-heart surgery was on the horizon.
“I knew it was important to be as strong as I could be before the surgery,” Bowers said. She worked out diligently with a trainer and added a Pilates Reformer class to strengthen her chest muscles and body core.
She had surgery on a Wednesday and was scheduled to check out of the hospital Saturday.
But while at the hospital, Bowers suffered from a third stage heart block, which she describes as the “heart having electrical misdirection and all your heart muscles stop beating. You’re basically dead.”
A specialist revived her through the aid of an external Pacemaker implanted on her leg. That night she had four blood transfusions. The experience made her very weak.
When she got home, “I couldn’t open the front door to my house. I couldn’t even cut up my food,” Bowers recalls.
Each day while in cardiac rehab, she would set a goal of walking from her bedroom to the kitchen. In another week , she could make it to the living room and eventually down the driveway of her house near Fort Hunt Park in Fairfax County.
“It helped to keep a one-line journal of my accomplishments to move me forward to the next day,” she said.
It got better but she hated the side effects of having high blood pressure – never a problem before but it came with the new heart valve. Determined to get off it, every day she worked on lowering her blood pressure through diet and working with a trainer specializing in working with Sport & Health members who had problems similar to Bowers.
“Don’t set your bar too low,” she said.
Today, Bowers said proudly that she takes no medication and is back to working out. She hasn’t quite gotten back to piano lessons but that’s on the to-do list.
“It’s important to be aware,” she said. “More women die from heart problems and heart disease than breast cancer….Age is not a factor.”
Today Bowers has a Pacemaker, which she describes as the size of an Oreo cookie, implanted in her shoulder.
One of her greatest achievements recently? Working out enough and embracing Pilates to build her muscles to hide her Pacemaker so that she could wear a strapless dress on New Year’s Eve.