A Message From the Heart
March 22, 2021
Family is everything to Schuelke, a 59-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Willow Lake who works in the central scheduling department at Huron Regional Medical Center. She enjoys spending time with her nine children and 11 grandchildren, as well as taking weekend trips with her sisters. During late spring of 2020, however, a heart problem threatened her ability to continue making memories with the people she loves.
On June 4, 2020, Schuelke headed inside after playing with her grandchildren in the yard when frightening symptoms struck. “I opened the patio door and instantly felt a crushing pain in my chest,” she says. “As quickly as the chest pain occurred, I also felt a terrible burning sensation down my left arm. I was hot and sweaty and felt like I might pass out.”
Schuelke took a low-dose aspirin and, after 15 minutes, the symptoms disappeared. Reluctant to go to the emergency department (ED), she eventually listened to her sister and son, both of whom work in medicine. Schuelke went to a Watertown hospital, where cardiac test results came back normal. The ED physician referred her to a family medicine physician, who in turn scheduled an appointment with Adam Stys, MD, interventional cardiologist at the Sanford Cardiovascular Institute. Schuelke saw Dr. Stys in Sioux Falls on June 12 and underwent another round of tests to check her heart’s level of function. The results were worrisome.
“Marlene was experiencing an unstable course of chest pain,” Dr. Stys says. “It was concerning enough that we needed to do an angiogram to directly look at her arteries instead of a stress test or another noninvasive diagnostic test.” Dr. Stys wanted to do the angiogram the same day, but Schuelke decided to wait until she could make family and work arrangements.
She struggled to believe her heart could be the source of her symptoms because she thought she didn’t have any warning signs or risk factors. “I was in denial at the possibility of having heart issues,” she says. “I’d had some shortness of breath that I blamed on wearing a mask at work, and I thought the fatigue I’d been experiencing was because I’m getting older. I take the stairs. I walk. I’m not overweight, don’t have a family history, and I don’t smoke or drink alcohol.”
On June 15, Schuelke returned to the Sanford Cardiovascular Institute, where Dr. Stys performed an angiogram. The procedure allowed him to identify two significant blockages in Schuelke’s right coronary artery by watching how dye moved through the heart vessels via X-ray. Dr. Stys used a catheter to send a balloon to the blockage site and inflated it to push plaque against the artery walls, a process called angioplasty. He then placed two stents – small tubes that keep the artery open and allow blood to flow to the heart.
“Marlene had a very good outcome,” Dr. Stys says. “She was on her way toward a big heart attack and we stopped that from happening.”
Schuelke saw Naveen Rajpurohit, MD, cardiologist with Sanford Cardiovascular Institute, at the HRMC Specialty Clinic for follow-up care. She says he was a great resource for her. She participated in cardiac rehab at HRMC and credits the staff for giving her the confidence she needed to accept that she has heart disease.
Her message for other women: You can’t care for everyone else if you don’t care for yourself.“Listen to your body,” Schuelke says. “You are important.”
You can learn more about Marlene's story, by watching her video here.
If you experience symptoms like Schuelke’s, don’t ignore them. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately.
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