Elizabeth Kale: Open-Heart Surgery

“I have regained my zest for life. I feel that the future holds a lot of second chances for me.”

Liz Kale of Albion had always been an active person, conscious of maintaining a healthy diet and weight. She lives on a lake and enjoyed water skiing, boating, and going out on her wave runner with her dog. Working in her yard and garden had always brought her pleasure, until undiagnosed heart problems left her frail, housebound and depressed. Now, after successful open-heart surgery at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, Liz said, “I have regained my zest for life. I feel that the future holds a lot of second chances for me.”

For more than a year and a half, Liz experienced dizziness, extreme fatigue, weakness and nausea—but she never had the chest tightness or pain that is often associated with a heart attack. She had been in shape and worked out a lot, but fatigue kept forcing her to turn down the speed on her treadmill. Biking uphill was becoming difficult and causing her shortness of breath. Liz eventually had to give up workouts and gardening and, she said, “I lost all interest in the activities I had loved.”

Frequently, Liz would have what she would call “episodes,” where she became dizzy, would start to sweat and felt like she would pass out. “Wherever I was, I would have to lie down. It got to the point where I wasn’t living my life anymore, because I was afraid of having another episode.  I became housebound and spent a lot of time in bed. I had been so healthy, and now I felt frail. I was becoming depressed.”

"I became housebound and spent a lot of time in bed. I had been so healthy, and now I felt frail. I was becoming depressed.” Liz Kale, open-heart surgery patient

Then, Liz began falling frequently. “I was always falling when going up steps, and I ended up hurting my knee and my arm quite badly,” she said. “I also felt like my brain was fuzzy, and sometimes I had trouble articulating words and would have to repeat myself over and over. This wouldn’t last long, but it was very frightening.”

Liz was seeing several physicians and specialists in West Michigan. “I also saw a specialist in Detroit and went to a major diagnostic center out of state six times, but no one could find out what was wrong with me,” Liz said. “My condition was attributed to everything from allergies to the normal aging process. I was frustrated and anxious because I knew something was wrong and they could never find what it was. In one instance, I was in an emergency room for a day and a half, and I left there undiagnosed and feeling neglected.” Liz was afraid she was having a stroke.

One day, Liz woke up with an achy forearm but no other symptoms. After doing her regular shopping and errands, she was feeling slightly “off” and went into her yard. A neighbor who saw her could immediately tell something was wrong and called 9-1-1. “By this time, everyone was aware of my health issues and keeping an eye on me,” Liz said. “It’s a blessing he called 9-1-1, because I didn’t realize I was in trouble.”

When the ambulance arrived, the paramedic told Liz he would take her to a nearby hospital or to Henry Ford Allegiance Health. “I wasn’t familiar with Allegiance, but I had been to the other hospital and did not want to go back there. So I chose Allegiance,” she said.

Liz said that as soon as she arrived at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, "I knew this place was different. Amazing things just happened. There was no waiting.  I was immediately admitted to the Heart and Vascular Center and had a series of tests. It was such a relief to be taken seriously and taken care of."

Cardiothoracic surgeon Mahender Macha, MD, came in to talk with Liz and her husband. “He sat down next to me and said, ‘I don’t have very good news. You have had two heart attacks and there has been some damage. You are going to need open-heart surgery.’ But, instead of being afraid, my first reaction was relief,” Liz said, “Finally, someone knew what was wrong with me.”

Liz found Dr. Macha to be “very kind, calming and comforting. He was also very confident that he could help me. He explained everything to me and my family in an understandable way that put me at ease.”

Henry Ford Allegiance Health’s Heart and Vascular Center is designed as a Cardiac Universal Bed Unit, which means that patients stay in the same private room for their entire hospital stay. It is affectionately known as the CUB. “As soon as you arrive, the CUB becomes your home for the whole time. That in itself was hugely comforting to me,” Liz said. “Even my tests were done in that room. The environment feels very peaceful and healing. I felt safe because I knew I was getting the best of care, and I was being constantly monitored. The level of personal attention was a huge factor in eliminating my fear and anxiety.”

"I felt safe because I knew I was getting the best of care." Liz Kale, open-heart surgery patient

When it was time for her surgery, Liz said, “I was at complete peace because I knew Dr. Macha was in charge. By then, he felt like a part of my family. Henry Ford Allegiance Health is really blessed to have him on board.”

Liz said the Heart and Vascular Center staff was “phenomenal. “Nolan, Chris, Ross, Dr. Macha and the nurses were all encouraging and genuinely caring. I never felt they were in a hurry or too busy to talk to me, and they kept my family informed. I was always getting warm sheets and blankets. When you are feeling so sick, it truly is the little things that mean so much.”

Liz’s family was also impressed with the level of care she received. “My brother told me he was comforted just to see how comfortable I was.” When it was time for discharge, Liz said, “I almost didn’t want to go home, because I knew I would miss the pampering.”

Since her recovery, Liz said, “I appreciate life and I am making the most of every day. My interest level is back up and my attitude has completely changed for the better. My friends feel like they have me back again. I have gained a little weight, and they tell me I look good again. I am so much more engaged and involved. I feel like I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

Looking back on her experience is still very emotional for Liz. “But I am very pleased and honored to be able to share my story in the hopes of giving hope to others with heart problems.”

Every Henry Ford Allegiance heart surgery patient is given a red heart pillow that is marked in the places where their arteries have been repaired. Liz said, “The pillow became a symbol of new life for me, and I keep it in a special place in my home. It will always remind me of how grateful I am for my life and for my care at Henry Ford Allegiance Health.”

Severe chest pain is not always present with a heart attack, especially for older adults, people with diabetes and women. They may experience sudden shortness of breath, coughing, dizziness, fatigue or weakness. Don’t take a chance. Call 9-1-1.