Health

She long advocated for heart health. Then her baby's life was saved by heart surgery

Julie Fitzpatrick, top left, and her family. (Special to The Gazette)
Julie Fitzpatrick, top left, and her family. (Special to The Gazette)

Julie Fitzpatrick has always been focused on healthy living.

She owns Optimal Wellness and is a physical therapist and wellness specialist at Progressive Rehabilitation Associates in Iowa City. She’s been a volunteer for 13 years with the American Heart Association, focused on spreading awareness of women’s health issues.

“I’m passionate about women’s health and wellness, and I believe in what the American Heart Association stands for,” she said.

Four years after she became a volunteer, she was pregnant with her daughter, when at the 20-week ultrasound, doctors discovered a heart defect — a transposition of the great arteries, meaning the baby’s aorta and pulmonary artery were reversed.

In the first month of daughter Janie’s life, the baby had two open-heart surgeries, correcting the defect.

Fifty years ago, Fitzpatrick said, the outcome might not have been as positive.

“It made me even more passionate about the American Heart Association and the research they help fund,” she said. “Our daughter is living proof that the research helps save lives.”

Today, Janie is a healthy 9-year-old who is active in gymnastics and volleyball. She has a small heart murmur that’s monitored by her doctors, but her activity isn’t restricted, and her future looks bright.

“We made the decision to trust that she’d be well,” Fitzpatrick said, explaining she didn’t want her daughter thinking her parents were constantly worried about her health.

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Fitzpatrick continues to volunteer with the American Heart Association, and she incorporates heart-healthy thinking into both her professional and family life.

“It’s important to not only know your numbers, like your cholesterol, fasting glucose and BMI, but to do something about it,” she said.

She encourages her physical therapy patients to eat healthy, hydrate properly and exercise, even if they have physical limitations. “If you have a bad knee, for example, getting in the pool can be a good option,” Fitzpatrick said.

Simple changes can have compounded effects if they’re done consistently, she said.

“It’s not about doing a 30-day program,” she said. “It’s about making it part of your life.”

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