Jenny Woodall, a MedicAlert member for over 40 years now, is a published writer. She has kindly accepted to be our guest author for this month's blog article on heart conditions, sharing her story and life challenges with us.

Jenny Woodall writer and NedicAlert member

In 2012, I found myself sat in A&E with a heart rate of 154. So, how did this happen?

I told myself that a touch of food poisoning 24 hours earlier had left me dehydrated and this was the result; my heart rate would return to normal once I’d had something to drink. Only it did not. An emergency appointment with my GP, a hastily written letter later and there I was in A&E, hooked up to a heart monitor with a cannula in my arm. Although anxious, I knew I was in good hands. The consultant tried medication to bring my heart rate down, but nothing worked and they decided to admit me for a cardioversion – a system reboot reminiscent of the ‘control + alt + delete’ commands on a computer, as my partner told everyone! That’s when full panic mode hit me.

My track record with general anaesthetics is not good. In the past, I’ve had two hyperpyrexia episodes - where my body temperature rose to an extreme fever, requiring urgent treatment - and been warned about the risks. As a retired medical secretary, I knew exactly what the procedure involved. I was scared; my mind was full of questions I was too afraid to know the answers to. Thankfully, the procedure was successful and my heart rate returned to a more acceptable rate. But it didn’t last. Three months later, I was back in A&E with the same problem. This time, however, medication worked and I was sent home with a supply of beta-blockers and told to expect an appointment for a cardiac ultrasound and a follow-up appointment with a cardiologist.

At that time, back in 1979, Dr Andrew Bellingham, who was a Consultant Haematologist at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, suggested that I wear a MedicAlert bracelet. He explained to me how the service would work, making sure my medical information would be visible to an emergency responder; having my medical details immediately available would aid them with any initial treatment decisions they may need to make. I joined MedicAlert and after 40 years I am still a member! Wearing my MedicAlert ID bracelet has been giving me peace of mind and reassurance ever since.

I still remember how I would lay awake at night listening to the valve make a squishing noise as my heart struggled to pump the blood around my body. Would I wake up in the morning? Sleep often eluded me, I lost my appetite and the anxiety increased every time I felt my heart beat or ‘jump’ in an odd way.

My mind went into overdrive:

Will I survive?

Will I have a stroke?

How will my family cope?

How will my life be impacted?

Will I see my godchildren and friends again?

Will I still be able to walk the dog, garden, go on holiday?

My partner and I left the hospital in a state of shock. Was this really happening or would we wake up in the morning and find it had all been just a nightmare? A battery of tests later, my name was added to the waiting list for aortic valve replacement. More tests followed, along with regular appointments with the consultant.

Despite all my concerns and challenges during this time, my MedicAlert bracelet continued to give me peace of mind: should I ever be unable to speak for myself, I knew that my medical details would be available, highlighting the anaesthetic risk and my subsequent heart issues. Whilst it wasn’t an easy time for me, this took some of the worries off my shoulders and allowed me to remain active and independent - I could still be myself!

Jenny Woodall author and MedicAlert member

In 2015, a letter for an appointment with a cardiothoracic consultant arrived. That’s when my world was really turned upside down – open heart surgery was too dangerous due to the amount of damage from earlier treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Without treatment, the prognosis was life-limiting. I was devastated - I had just turned 60.

The consultant explained that there was one other option and referred me to the Yorkshire Heart Centre, for consideration of a TAVI: Transaortic Valve Implementation - a procedure that is designed to replace a diseased aortic valve. Fortunately, I was deemed suitable and was admitted in January 2016, a few months short of my 61st birthday, for a TAVI procedure under sedation.

Back on the ward, I felt the difference straight away. I no longer heard the valve 'squishing’ or felt my heart ‘jumping’ in my chest. Seven days later, I was home and taking short walks around the Close.

After this series of events, in 2016 I had my details updated in my MedicAlert record, which is stored online by the charity for me. I also had my MedicAlert bracelet changed, after I had been wearing it since 1979. One of their friendly nurses has checked and updated the new medical details for me, to make sure they were accurate. The engraving on my bracelet informs that I now have atrial fibrillation, a TAVI and a pacemaker.

I remain well and the atrial fibrillation I occasionally suffer with is controlled by medication. I can walk on the flat, although still struggle with hills. I try not to overexert myself and rest if I feel tired. I do have to guard against infection, but other than that my life is back to normal. The difference the TAVI made is nothing short of miraculous.

Medical advances are being made all the time. Fifteen years ago, implanting a heart valve via the veins in the groin was impossible. Now, research is being undertaken to replace other heart valves in a similar manner. Who knows what developments may be available in another year or in 5 years’ time?!

My advice to anyone living with a similar heart condition is: don’t give up, be positive. Know your limitations and listen to your body; if it tells you to rest, do so. And as I have been a MedicAlert member for 40 years now, I would strongly suggest anyone with a medical problem to invest in a MedicAlert bracelet for peace of mind. It is invaluable: should I ever be unable to speak for myself, I know my medical history is available and that gives me reassurance every day.

If you or a loved one is living with a heart condition and want to be safer and feel safer, click on the button below to learn more about how the MedicAlert’s full medical ID service works and how it could benefit you:


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