Getting Clara to the Beach

Clara Freeman anxiously anticipated attending her oldest granddaughter's beach wedding.

Beneath her sparking blue eyes and round glowing cheeks, Clara wears a warm, sweet smile that charms every person she meets in her hometown of Poplar Bluff, Missouri. Mother of nine, grandmother of 12, and great-grandmother of four, her family remains her most prized possession.

The previous winter, however, her adoring family noticed changes in Clara.

"Mom seemed out of energy," said her daughter Susan. Susan noticed her mom napped more frequently and had very little appetite. She grew concerned and asked her physician to see Clara. After an exam, the doctor suspected a serious heart condition known as aortic stenosis and referred Clara to Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

What is Aortic Stenosis?

The aorta is the main artery that carries blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Blood flows out of the heart and into the aorta through the aortic valve. In aortic stenosis, the aortic valve does not open fully. This decreases blood flow from the heart.

As the aortic valve narrows, the left ventricle has to work harder to pump blood out through the valve. To do this extra work, the muscles in the ventricle walls become thicker. This can lead to chest pain. Over time, aortic stenosis can lead to numerous heart conditions, including heart failure or pulmonary hypertension.

Clara's Heart Team

At her first appointment at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Clara's family observed the quality care of Missouri Baptist Medical Center first-hand! Clara's team of six heart specialist worked together to diagnose and recommend treatment for her conditions. Through image testing, and consultation with cardiac surgeons Clara had a diagnosis which included valve disease in both the aortic valve and the mitral valve of her heart.

The cardiology team at Missouri Baptist Medical Center recommended open-heart surgery for Clara, and the decision was now up to her and her family. Clara, however, expressed her worries about missing her granddaughter's wedding.

"I had been looking forward to seeing my granddaughter get married on the beach for quite some time. I needed to get better so I could be part of her big day."

"Dr. Thukkani talked individually with each member of our family." Clara's daughter Susan said. "He took his time, even repeated details, until everyone understood the information. Before her surgery, the anesthesiologist held Mom's hand and looked into her eyes while he told us what to expect. It was amazing to see how everyone worked together to save Mom's life."

Clara's Caregivers Grow

Following a successful surgery and a brief stay in recovery, Clara made good progress and was soon headed to the Inpatient Rehabilitation program. Here, patients receive intensive comprehensive therapy, including physical, occupational and speech therapy.

As part of the Inpatient Rehabilitation program, patients like Clara receive three hours of therapy a day, five days a week. Lizette Alvarez, MD, who serves as medical director for Inpatient and Outpatient Rehabilitation programs at Missouri Baptist is proud of the collaboration between heart health and rehabilitation at Missouri Baptist.

With the benefits of on site primary care, paired with rehabilitation services 80 percent of those participating in the Inpatient Rehabilitation program are able to return home after an average patient stay of just two to three weeks!

"For patients like Clara, whose doctors visited almost daily, the continuity of care with a structured schedule is important for recovery" she said. "Our unit is located in the hospital, and so primary care physicians and specialists can see a patient several times a day.

A Sunny Celebration

Clara's family kept her focused on her beach dreams by decorating her hospital room in seaside motif. With Clara's hard work and the expert care of her Missouri Baptist cardiology and rehab teams, the day finally came for her to go home.

Grandmother Clara was seated in the front row when granddaughter Liz and groom Denis were married on June 4, 2016, . That evening, Clara even performed a brief jitterbug on the dance floor and took a long walk on the beach.

"I wanted the surgery because I have more weddings to attend and trips to take," said Clara. "Everyone at Missouri Baptist took such good care of me and I can't thank them enough for getting me to the beach on time."

Clara made it to her granddaughter's wedding.

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