Seventy-four year old mom, grandma, and great-grandmother Sandra Donovan knew something was wrong with her. Maybe it was her training as a nurse, or maybe it was just deep intuition, but when starting in 2019 she had persistent shortness of breath that just wouldn’t resolve, she knew she needed medical help.
“I basically was healthy most of my life,” she said. “I had asthma pretty bad as a child, but I outgrew it in my early 20s. In my late ‘40s I developed hypothyroidism and high blood pressure as well as gaining some weight. I put that in with ‘the passage of life’.”
Sandy said that 15 years ago her primary care physician noticed a slight heart murmur.
“I went to a cardiologist and was told it was nothing to worry about, just check it every few years.”
But when the shortness of breath began, Sandy became concerned.
“I couldn’t walk up and down the stairs. I couldn’t catch my breath. It was very bad. I went back and forth to the doctors, thinking it was my asthma again.”
By August of 2020 she still wasn’t better.
“I went to a pulmonologist and a cardiologist. They listened to my heart and said it was more than a murmur. It was quite significant. I went for an EKG and a nuclear stress test and was told there was some calcification in my valve, and a shadow in my heart artery.”
“Then I was released, and the doctor told me to call back in a year to repeat the testing.”
Sandy told her husband that something was wrong. When a friend heard that she was told to return in a year, he suggested getting a second opinion, and recommended Deborah. Sandy — who lives in Little Egg Harbor — assumed that the hospital was hours away.
“But I discovered it was only 40 minutes away. I looked online and looked at all the cardiologists.”
She saw Dr. Renee Bullock-Palmer and was very happy, especially because she specializes in women’s heart health.
“I always prefer women doctors. They listen and understand how you feel.” She had an appointment within a week.
“At this point I was very fearful,” Sandy recalled. “I had written a good-bye letter to my family. By now I was having chest pains also.”
But her decision to come to Deborah likely saved Sandy’s life.
“It was a God send.”
“After telling Dr. Bullock-Palmer my story, she immediately ordered new testing, as well as a heart catheterization. I started crying. I finally found a doctor who was serious about finding out what my condition was.”
And sure enough, Sandy had significant heart problems.
“There was a thickening of my valve, severe stenosis, and my heart wasn’t pumping sufficiently. This is why I had such shortness of breath.”
In November Sandy received a stent, and in December she underwent a TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement).
“Dr. Sanghvi [Kintur Sanghvi] did my procedure. He was amazing. He explained everything to me. I stayed in overnight. Everything went well and there were no complications.”
Immediately Sandy started breathing much better and her energy level picked up.
“I can’t say enough about Deborah,” she said. “Everyone was kind and helpful and caring. If I hadn’t come here I would have been dead from a heart attack or a stroke. I know that someone missed the boat somewhere along the way.”
“Everyone is my family is very happy and I thank God for answering my prayers.”
Sandy, who unfortunately had several setbacks after her surgery, including a broken foot and about with COVID, is looking forward to the next chapter in her recovery, including exercising at rehab.
“I am so happy I went for that second opinion. It saved my life.”
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