Living with a congenital heart defect, Susan Jackson has always felt passionate about helping to raise awareness about heart disease.
She has played a key role in organizing the East Central Illinois Heart Walk for the past nine years. However, after undergoing opening heart surgery in November, her participation in this year’s Heart Walk is even more meaningful.
Still on the mend, Jackson is getting stronger everyday. Born with a rare congenital heart defect called Ebstein’s Anomaly, her symptoms of shortness of breath and fluid retention began to dramatically worsen in recent years. While she has faced yearly heart checks since childhood, it wasn’t until the past few years when her condition was severely restricting her ability to stay active, especially with her three granddaughters. “The girls would have to stop and sit with me for while so I could catch my breath. They knew something was wrong,” she said.
As more blood started leaking from her heart, doctors sought to repair the malformed tricuspid valve that characterizes her condition. To complicate matters, Jackson was also born with a patent foramen ovale (PFO), or a hole in the heart that didn’t close, which was causing more blood leakage from her heart. Thankfully, doctors were able to repair the valve and stop the severe leakages, reducing her risk of stroke and other complications, during the five-hour surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis.
Jackson spent eight-days in the hospital and another week recovering at her daughter’s home in Troy before returning to her home in Effingham. Currently undergoing cardiac rehabilitation classes through Monitored Exercise Training Services (METS) at Sarah Bush Lincoln, “I feel great,” she said. “I can certainly tell a difference in my breathing and I’m getting my strength back.”
Jackson hopes to raise awareness about heart disease by talking about it with others. She is the 2015 spokesperson for the East Central Illinois Heart Walk set for Sunday, Feb. 15, at the Cross County Mall, Mattoon. She will also be helping to register participants and working behind the scenes. Informational booths, along with face painting for the kids, will be available in the mall from noon to 2 pm and is open to the general public and heart walk participants. The walk will step off at 1:20 pm following a brief opening ceremony. Bub McCullough, WMCI, is serving as master of ceremonies.
Cardiovascular disease – including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. It is a leading cause of disability, preventing Americans from working and enjoying family activities. In addition, congenital heart defects (CHD) are the number one birth defect in the U.S. with nearly one in 100 babies born with heart defects each year. There are between two and three million people living with CHD including more than one million adults.
“It has always meant a lot to me to participate in the Heart Walk, but this year it will mean a little more,” Jackson said, knowing first hand what people go through following open heart surgery. She was surprised to be surrounded by so many women in her cardiac rehab classes at METS, learning that more women die of heart disease than all kinds of cancer combined.
Now, Jackson is working toward becoming healthier through diet and exercise. Already cutting all salt from her diet, she admits she still has a weakness for sweets though she is cutting back. She has already lost 17 pounds and was able to reduce her blood pressure medication. She is working toward increasing her exercise level. Excited to be back at work as a telecommunications supervisor at Sarah Bush Lincoln, she looks forward to doing more things with her granddaughters and getting back out on the golf course this year.
Those interested in participating in the Heart Walk can still register at the event between noon and 1 pm on February 15. The public is welcome to attend. Anyone interested in forming a team or raising money by walking can also call Susan Jackson at (217) 238-4784. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System is the signature sponsor for the Heart Walk. Other sponsors include Consolidated Communications, First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust, St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital, Lake Land College, Rural King, Birkey’s, Wireless Mike’s, and WMCI.
For more information about Sarah Bush Lincoln METS, call (217) 258-2177.