Small symptoms were signs of a much bigger problem

Center Point woman had no idea she had serious heart issues

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Susan Parke has had quite the year.

While preparing for foot surgery in the fall of 2011, Parke, 66, of Center Point, mentioned to her doctor that she was having trouble catching her breath.

"I told my doctor I could barely carry a basket of laundry up a small flight of steps," she recalls. "When I mentioned I was also having mild chest pain, he gave me a funny look and said ‘I think we’ll have a cardiologist look at you.’"

After going through a stress test, Parke and her doctor discovered she had two blockages that would need to be treated.

Surgery was scheduled at St. Luke’s Hospital with Dr. Richard Kettelkamp in December of 2011 — right before getting ready to celebrate Christmas with her family. Parke was told it would take about half an hour. Well over two hours into surgery, Dr. Kettelkamp came out to the waiting room to let her husband Stuart know things weren’t going as well as they’d hoped; that they were having trouble opening up the blockages.

But it would get far worse before it would get better. Parke actually had a heart attack while still in surgery. Luckily, the doctors and nurses were finally able to get the blockages open.

"If it wasn’t for that great team, I wouldn’t be here today," she says.

A few weeks later, Parke battled pericarditis — an inflammation of the lining of the heart — and had more surgery to clear the additional blockages found in both of her legs.

She finished her last two surgeries — to repair leaky valves in her legs that weren’t pushing blood back up to her heart late last year.

Parke, who actually worked in the lab at St. Luke’s for 20 years, never thought to talk about her symptoms with her doctor.

"I would go up a flight of steps and my legs would feel so weak I’d have to stop. I just thought I was getting older. I had no idea I had any heart trouble at all."

Her advice to other women is to not ignore any symptoms. "If you feel like your legs aren’t working right, it may mean more than you think it means."

Today, Parke has been released by her cardiologist and is getting back on her feet, and on her bike for that matter.

"This past summer I was biking everyday." She appreciates being able to enjoy retirement with her husband and to spend time with their children and grandchildren, hopefully for many years to come.

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