Marie Straitz's Story

Messages from Your Heart Should Not Be Ignored

The Rude Awakenings

Marie Straitz will tell you that she struggled with weight most of her life. She did not eat a healthy diet, never made time for exercise, worked stressful jobs, and knew that heart disease ran in her family. She also will tell you that cardiac events changed her life forever.

Marie's first event occurred 10 years ago, while she was living in Baltimore. Her doctors prescribed cholesterol and blood pressure medication to slow the progression of plaque in her arteries.

On Nov. 15, 2010, Marie, now living in Fort Myers, experienced her second cardiac event when she awoke with chest pain. "The pain was different," Marie says. "It was a gripping pain, a squeezing in my chest."

Making a Lifestyle Change

Upon arrival at Gulf Coast Medical Center, cardiologist Vladimir Ilic, M.D., ordered a cardiac catheterization—a procedure that allowed him to view the blood vessels, arteries and veins of Marie's heart. He found blockage in one of Marie's main arteries. Dr. Ilic performed a procedure to insert two stents—mesh tubes used to open blockages in an artery.

"Marie's procedure was a success," Dr. Ilic says. "But, in order for her to have continued success, I prescribed cardiac rehabilitation—as I do for all of my patients with coronary artery disease, especially after stenting or bypass surgery. This part is crucial because patients need to understand that lifestyle changes must be made."

Learning about diet, exercise and stress management in a safe, controlled environment is important, as well as taking prescribed medications. The stents open the blockage, but do not guarantee long-term results—patients must make appropriate changes to their lifestyle.

Marie returned to work almost immediately after her discharge from the hospital and she had plans to attend cardiac rehabilitation. Several weeks later, Marie experienced low blood pressure. "I woke up with chest pain," she says. "When I tried to stand up, I fell and hit my head on the nightstand. That really scared me, so I called 911 and was transported to Gulf Coast Medical Center."

Dr. Ilic performed another cardiac catheterization, but found that another stent was not necessary. "Occasionally, patients may experience symptoms after a stent, like chest pain or changes in blood pressure," Dr. Ilic explains. "That is why cardiac rehabilitation is so valuable—the exercise, diet and lifestyle adjustments are done under the supervision of health care professionals."

A few weeks later, Marie enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation. "I knew I needed to make serious changes in my life," she says.

The cardiac rehabilitation provided the education and guidance Marie needed to manage stress, make exercise a priority and adjust her diet. She also began a nutrition program that includes a health coach to keep her on track.

A Path to a New Life

"These cardiac events made me sit up and pay attention," Marie says. "I received great care and motivation to make the changes I needed to save my life. The staff at cardiac rehabilitation was amazing—they were compassionate and kind, and it was clear that working in cardiac rehab is much more than a job for each of them. Now, with me doing my part—with exercise, diet and stress management—I have lost more than 70 pounds."

Marie, now 59 years old, has even taken a new career path—she is a health coach.

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