You only have one life to live

Paula Runnells, Patient

After retiring from her job as a dental assistant, Paula Runnells and her husband moved out of metro Detroit to Hillsdale, Mich. to take care of her husband’s aunt who was recovering from a hip injury. They moved into a house that had an expansive yard with ponds and a vegetable garden.

Last winter, Paula began to notice she had very little energy and was having difficulty catching her breath. Stopping and sitting during everyday activities became a norm. She knew she needed to see a doctor.

On the Saturday before her appointment, Paula was tending to one of the ponds. When her husband pulled into the driveway, Paula walked up to greet him and suddenly fainted. Luckily, her husband was there to help.

Monday was her scheduled stress test at a doctor’s office close to her home. During one of the tests, Paula collapsed again. When she came to, she was on the floor with a slew of nurses tending to her. They took her to the emergency room. After several tests, a cardiologist came to speak with Paula and told her that she needed a valve replaced in her heart. Though the news wasn’t the best, she was relieved to know what was causing her fatigue.

Her cardiologist suggested she go to a hospital in Ann Arbor to have the procedure done, but Paula already knew which doctor she wanted.  Years ago, this doctor performed a triple bypass on her mother. He was kind and patient and helped extend her mother’s life for many years. That doctor’s name was Alphonse DeLucia III, MD, with Bronson Cardiothoracic, Vascular & Endovascular Specialists. Plus, she joked that she couldn’t go to Ann Arbor, because as an avid Michigan State University fan, she “bleeds green… not blue.”

Paula was told that Dr. DeLucia no longer practiced at the hospital where her mother had her surgery, but she could find him at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Mich. Though Kalamazoo was an hour and a half away, she knew she wanted Dr. DeLucia for her surgery. So that night, Paula was placed in an ambulance and taken to Bronson.

Paula stayed on the cardiothoracic surgery floor until her surgery Friday morning. Paula was given a binder that contained information about her surgery and what to expect during her recovery. She was encouraged to read a section each day and write down her questions. Then each morning, the nursing staff came in to check on her and answer any questions she had.

After surgery, Paula experienced very little pain. And when she was able to, she tried to walk around as much as possible. She explored the hospital and sat by the window in the Garden Atrium. A few days later, she was released to go home.

“Dr. DeLucia is a very personable person. You can tell he loves what he does. All the hospital staff are so wonderful there. Everyone was nice and helpful. I think that’s a part of the healing process, when you know people care about you.”

Bronson at Home cared for Paula during her recovery. A nurse visited her Hillsdale home twice per week to check her vitals and make sure everything was healing properly. She also had rehabilitation at a hospital nearby.

A few months later, Paula came back to Kalamazoo to see cardiologist Michael S. Pawlik, DO, FACC, with Bronson Advanced Cardiac Healthcare. She was ecstatic when he gave her a clean bill of health and asked her to come back in a year.

Though she still gets a little tired, Paula’s life is pretty much back to normal. She’s looking forward to working in her garden and canning fruits and vegetables. And she started volunteering at Crossroads Farm, a cooperative rural youth ministry that provides programming and outreach events to teenagers.

“I didn’t realize how depleted my energy was until after the surgery. I used to get winded walking out to the ponds in my backyard. I couldn’t vacuum, and I could only bring the laundry down and load it in the washer. I had to have my husband finish the rest. Now, that has changed.”

So what’s Paula’s advice? Don’t wait. Go to the doctor NOW to find out what’s going on.

“I tell everyone, if they have heart issues, I know where you should go. Go to Bronson and see Dr. DeLucia. You only have one life to live. You have a responsibility to take care of your body as best you can.”