Imagine your breathing is so labored that it’s difficult for you to walk or move. Completing once-simple tasks, like cooking or even walking across the room, seem like mountainous obstacles. You are being treated for a lung condition, but feel in your heart that it is something more than that. What you didn’t feel, however, was what was actually happening inside your heart.
This was the reality for 78-year-old Statesville resident, Betsy Evans. She had always considered herself generally healthy and proactive with her medical appointments and screenings. But, as breathing became increasingly difficult for Evans, she found herself reaching for her oxygen and inhaler, prescribed for her lung condition, more and more frequently.
“I would have several episodes where I would be sitting in my chair, crawl up into a fetal position, and could not move. I told my husband, ‘We need to see a cardiologist,’” said Evans.
Evans scheduled her appointment, and soon after, in late October 2021, she visited the office of Bradley Martin, a cardiologist at Statesville Cardiovascular Clinic.
“She [Evans] was one of those people who I knew right away when I walked into the room that something was wrong. Her whole demeanor — the way she was breathing, the look on her face — you could see she was uncomfortable and in trouble. I realized this was something we were likely going to need to move quickly on,” said Martin.
After an electrocardiogram (EKG), a heart monitoring test, Martin realized Evans was in atrial fibrillation (AFib), which is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm.
“Dr. Martin talked with me and explained everything in terms I could understand. His last words were, ‘I’ll see you in the hospital in the morning,’” said Evans.
At this point, the full extent of Evans’ condition was not yet uncovered, but it was not solely a lung condition. It was also a heart condition.
Martin scheduled a cardioversion for Evans the very next day. A cardioversion is a procedure used to treat atrial fibrillation using quick, low-energy shocks to restore a regular heart rhythm.
When Evans arrived at Iredell Memorial Hospital the following day, she had to receive a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) before her cardioversion. A TEE is a type of test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the heart and its structures. In order to have a safe cardioversion, since there is a risk of stroke, a TEE is done before to make sure there are no blood clots in the heart.
“Surprisingly, on her TEE, I realized the real problem. It actually wasn’t the AFib. It was an issue with her mitral valve,” said Martin.
The mitral valve is one of the heart’s four valves. A healthy mitral valve keeps blood moving in the right direction.
Some of Evan’s tendinous cords that keep her mitral valve in place were ruptured, causing blood to leak across the valve and leading to her irregular heart rhythm.
“Dr. Martin explained to me that I had a defective valve and that I needed to stay in Iredell Memorial for five more days. After that, I would need to be transferred to a different hospital to have open heart surgery and replace the valve,” said Evans.
For five days, Martin and his team got Evans medically prepared for open heart surgery. They removed extra fluid, put her on medications to help her heart function, and performed a heart catheterization to make sure she did not have any blockages.
After leaving Iredell Memorial, Evans met with a surgeon at the hospital where she was transferred. Just six days later, on November 17, Evans had open heart surgery. Her valve was replaced with a pig valve.
She stayed in that hospital for 16 days after surgery. When discharged, Evans went to an assisted living facility in Statesville for rehabilitation, where she was for two weeks before finally going home.
“When I came home, I felt wonderful. People tell me I’ve been on a journey. But, for me, it wasn’t a journey. It was a day trip. It all happened so fast,” said Evans.
Evans felt much better and came home in time to enjoy the holidays with her family.
“I saw Evans about eight weeks postoperatively, and she was a brand new woman. She couldn’t believe how much better she felt. She had been dealing with that for a long time,” said Martin.
Later, in March 2022, Evans was at Iredell Health System’s Outpatient Rehab in Statesville completing her cardiac rehabilitation therapy. Unfortunately, while she was there, her blood pressure shot up to 190/90, and she went into AFib again.
“I went to Dr. Martin’s office immediately. I saw the PA there, and she talked me through what was going on. They did another EKG and set me up for an appointment with Dr. Martin a few days later,” said Evans.
At her appointment with Martin, he decided to schedule a cardioversion to return Evans’ heart to a normal rhythm.
And since that procedure, Evans has not had any other issues. She has been able to get back to doing the things she’s so desperately missed, like crafting and spending time at her beach house.
“I wasn’t really living before my surgery. But now, I’m excited about life going forward. I’m finally doing things I want to do. For the first time in a long time, I was able to drive to the beach by myself. I am going to live every day I can to the fullest,” she said.
Martin explains that he always finds it rewarding to see patients get back the life they’ve wanted to live.
“The first time I saw her, I don’t think she knew she would ever have the quality of life she had before. She had been sick for a while, and I don’t think she thought she was getting better. But, I knew once we saw that valve that things were going to get better fairly quickly. And, it’s not fun to have open heart surgery, but that was certainly the right thing for her, and she did great,” said Martin.
Reflecting on her experience, Evans is incredibly thankful for all the medical professionals who cared for her. She is especially grateful for Martin, who discovered the cause of all of her life-altering symptoms.
“Dr. Martin’s staff has been so wonderful. And, the main thing I want to say about Dr. Martin is that he not only cares about your heart and your physical being, he cares about your mental health, and he cares about your emotional health. He always asks how you feel, really talks to you, and cares for you,” said Evans.
Evans’s story was shared last week during the Iredell Health Foundation’s inaugural Heart of Jazz, a fundraiser benefitting the Cardiac & Vascular Care Fund for Iredell Health System. The fund supports the life-saving efforts of cardiologists, vascular surgeons, nurses, and technicians throughout the health system, and 100 percent of funds raised remain in Iredell County. To learn more about the fund, or to make a donation, visit IredellHealthFoundation.org, or call 704-878-7669.
Dr. Bradley Martin sees patients in Statesville, Mooresville, and Taylorsville. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Martin, please call 704-873-1189.