Women’s Heart Fund
The Women’s Heart Fund is proud to present inspiring stories of women throughout the community who have faced a serious health challenge, or who have helped a loved one navigate through one.
It Could Happen to You
As a member on a Hackensack Meridian Health board, Dawn Reinhardt is no stranger to the network’s hospitals. Yet when she found herself in unfamiliar territory following her husband John’s sudden heart issues, it was easy to feel lost and afraid.
John, who is also a longtime board member of the Jersey Shore University Medical Center Foundation, found himself in need of a quadruple bypass surgery and subsequent cardiac rehabilitation after diagnostic tests revealed that he had an 80 percent blockage of four coronary arteries.
“It is truly frightening when your spouse is in need of such serious, lifesaving surgery,” says Dawn. “The night before the surgery, John spent the evening in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on his laptop getting their affairs in order for the next six months in case something went awry during surgery. “That really puts life into perspective.”
The day of surgery, Dawn, like many spouses before her, waited anxiously for news from John’s phenomenal surgeon, David Johnson, M.D. The CardioVascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) team would periodically provide updates as she paced and prayed in the Women’s Heart Fund-sponsored waiting area in the CVICU at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.
Thankfully, John emerged from surgery with flying colors, but had to spend two nights in the ICU. Like any supportive wife, Dawn wanted to stay overnight with her husband, but after careful consideration, realized that she would be in the way of the doctors and nurses whom she needed to rely on to help her husband heal.
“Humbling. That’s the word I would use to describe how it felt to recognize that I needed to leave John’s side so that the nurses could do what they were trained to do,” Dawn explains. “It was so hard to leave, but it was the right decision. I would not have felt the same way had it not been for the amazing communication I received from the medical team, who kept me apprised of his condition the entire time.”
Now, just over one year to the day after the frightening experience, Dawn is grateful. “I am so thankful to John’s world class doctors, to the incredible nurses who cared for him – many of whom reached out to check on him even after he left the hospital – for the excellent communication that was executed throughout the ordeal and most importantly, that my husband is here with us today.”
Dawn is more thankful than ever to be part of the Hackensack Meridian Health family, but knows that the excellent care John received was not just because he is affiliated with the hospital. “All patients that come through the doors of the medical center receive the highest level of care,” she says. “This amazingly talented staff of experienced professionals diagnosed his condition, came up with a solution, made sure we all felt comfortable with the plan and then executed it to get my husband healthy and home. It was one of the most frightening times in our lives, but we are blessed.”
Dawn’s advice to other families is to pay attention to your heart and to the signs that something is amiss. “John’s symptoms weren’t typical,” she explains. “It’s so important to stay on top of your heart health. We were very lucky, but going through this experience was extremely frightening. You never want to believe it, but it really could happen to you.”
At just 21 years of age, Kiera Driscoll began experiencing episodes where her heart would inexplicably begin racing. The medical team at a local Emergency Department said it was the result of too much caffeine, or caused by college-related stress, but it soon became evident that she was experiencing a true medical condition.
Originally, these heart-racing episodes would occur approximately every six months and last for around 15 seconds. However, while on vacation with her family, her heart began racing more frequently and for longer.
After arriving home, one night became particularly worrisome. Kiera’s heart began racing every few minutes and lasted for minutes at a time. It was then that the decision was made to bring her to Jersey Shore University Medical Center where the Emergency Department team took bloodwork and connected her to an EKG machine.
For awhile everything appeared normal, but then it happened again. Her medical team was immediately able to see what was occurring and diagnosed Kiera with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a rapid heartbeat that develops when the normal electrical impulses of the heart are disrupted.
While not as immediately dangerous as a heart ailment like cardiac arrest, the situation was severe enough that Kiera was admitted to Jersey Shore University Medical Center and underwent a cardiac ablation – a procedure that scars or destroys the tissue in the heart that is allowing the incorrect electrical signals and causing the abnormal heart rhythm.
A year later, Kiera and her family are thrilled to report that the cardiac ablation completely cured her heart troubles. Now 22 and working at her dream job at Walt Disney World, she is glad to be able to close this chapter, but has words of wisdom for women experiencing health issues and who may feel dismissed about their concerns, as she did.
“It’s very important to be persistent. You don’t have to go through life every day with the issues you are experiencing. It is belittling and frustrating and it’s important that if something is bothering you, that you trust your gut and find the doctors and the right people who will get you answers.”
Kiera’s story has impacted several friends who have also experienced episodes of SVT and has encouraged them to seek medical attention. Her mother, Kristin, is grateful for the care she received and reiterates the importance of women not ignoring medical concerns and fighting to be heard.
“You really have to be experiencing an episode of SVT to be diagnosed,” says Kiera. “I was lucky that it happened while I was at the hospital and that they could see exactly what was happening. But, if I had known more about it, or if my concerns had been taken more seriously, I could have gotten to the root of the issue much sooner.”
In 2014, members of the Women’s Heart Fund gathered in the Kurr Atrium of Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center waiting for fellow board member, Anita Roselle. They were getting ready to tour the hospital’s new CardioVascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), including the family waiting room that the group helped to fund. Friends gave Anita 20 minutes and a few phone calls, but had to move forward with the tour without her. Little did everyone know, Anita
was in the middle of dealing with her own cardiovascular health incident.
For a few years, Anita was feeling discomfort in her chest, but more often than not, simply drinking some water made the discomfort subside. Like many women do, Anita ignored the signs that something more serious was happening and focused her attention on family and staying active with the many causes she supports. As we commonly see, Anita put everyone else’s needs before her own.
It wasn’t until Anita was out to dinner one night that the pain became severe, and water offered no relief. The next day, when everyone else was touring the CVICU, Anita was finally with her doctor receiving an overdue scan of the heart. The results revealed several blockages and the need for quadruple bypass surgery as soon as possible. “I can’t stress it enough, you have to listen to your body,” explains Anita. “We have such unusual symptoms when there’s a cardiac issue and they are very different from what men experience, we can’t ignore them.”
Luckily, surgery for Anita was really well, and she recovered wonderfully. “The care at Jersey Shore University Medical Center was exceptional,” she added. “I had surgery on September 14 and by the first weekend in December I was able to enjoy myself at a local fundraiser – I feel so grateful I was able to heal and don’t have to use an oxygen tank.”
Since Anita’s cardiovascular procedure she made a commitment to take better care of herself and has seen a big difference in her health. Overall, she continues to stand by a mindset she has believed in since she married her husband Joseph more than 55 years ago, “always stay positive, give to others, and you will live a happy and healthy life.”
Nila Luccarelli is a beautiful, young, vibrant woman who always made exercise and healthy eating a priority in life. Her family has no history of heart disease, so you can imagine the shock she felt when her physician told her she was experiencing heart failure immediately after the birth of her third daughter.
Instead of finally getting to hold her newborn baby girl, Nila was moved to the cardiovascular unit of the hospital and was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM). Though the days following were filled with fear and anxiety, dealing with PPCM became a part of Nila’s ordinary routine as the condition was stabilized with medication and regular visits with her cardiologist.
Life resumed as normal, and Nila returned to the active lifestyle she enjoyed before her diagnosis until one terrifying day in an exercise class. Finishing up a set and ready to move to the next, Nila turned to a workout buddy and mumbled, “Today feels really hard.” Moments later, she collapsed. Without the quick action of Betsy Toal, a nurse in the class who immediately performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and utilized an automated external defibrillator, and the emergency department team at Bayshore Community Hospital, cardiac arrest would have taken Nila’s life.
The incident occurred on April 16, 2015 and changed her life forever. “After experiencing ‘sudden death’, as referred to by my cardiologist, I make it a priority to stay positive and be grateful for everything I have,” shared Nila. “It’s so important for women to be their own health advocate, stay on top of heart and overall health, and most importantly listen to your body.”