Protecting your heart after a heart procedure

April 23, 2019

GOSHEN, Ind. – If you’ve had a stent in the arteries that supply blood to your heart, or a heart procedure that restored regular heart rate and rhythm such as an ablation, pacemaker or a defibrillator, you may feel like once you’ve been discharged from the hospital, you’re good to go. But most people discover such procedures are life-altering events and they need to protect their hearts (and their lives) by eating healthier, exercising more, managing their stress, taking medications and monitoring any implanted devices.

The good news is that regular monitoring of implanted devices and medications lowers your risk for stroke, fatal arrhythmias, cardiac arrest or another heart attack. And, having an implanted cardiac device often doesn’t require an office visit.

At Goshen Heart & Vascular Center, patients use wireless technology to send information to the center for a virtual check-up on the device. This saves time and money for patients, who can come less frequently to the office for regular cardiac device checks. “Instead, we can take care of their pacemakers and defibrillators anywhere they can connect to a phone line or wireless. Many of our patients head south for sunny weather during the winter months. We can stay in touch with them and their heart long distance,” said Diane Ringler, IBHRE Certified Cardiac Device Specialist at Goshen Heart & Vascular Center.

“The device constantly collects and stores information on the number of heart episodes, how long they lasted and how efficiently the device functions,” said Ringler. “The patient’s pacemaker or defibrillator sends important alerts about how the heart is working to our office automatically and in real time. This assures the patient and their family we are keeping a close eye on their heart and can take early and quick action if needed.”

Patients also go to the center’s device clinic periodically, which allows Ringler and cardiologists to assess how the device is functioning and make adjustments to help patients feel better.

Long-term follow-up care keeps hearts healthy

For Jackie Miller, regular checkups at the device clinic give her the reassurance she needs that her pacemaker and heart rhythm are in sync. She also checks in at the center’s anticoagulation clinic each month to make sure her blood thinner medication is in balance.

“If Coumadin levels change, we talk with patients about what they’ve been eating, new medications they are taking or what may have changed in their everyday routines,” explained Linda Nicolai, LPN, who manages the clinic.

The goal with each visit – maintain the right level of blood thinner to prevent blood clots that can cause strokes, pulmonary embolisms and heart attacks. Due to their close monitoring of patients on blood-thinning medicines, Goshen Heart & Vascular Center’s Anticoagulation Clinic has greater success than the national average of keeping patients in therapeutic range when they are on Warfarin (Coumadin).

Taking control of heart health

Miller, 79, has lived with heart problems for decades. She relies on her pacemaker and medications to control congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation, or AFib. She knows when it’s time to call either clinic, even if it’s in between regular checkups.

“I know I can call if I don’t feel right,” said Miller. “They get me in right away and tell me if I’ve had an episode or if my Coumadin is off.”

During checkups, Miller makes sure to let her care team know about changes in her activity level, eating habits or everyday routine. The conversations have helped Miller understand the importance of taking medications on schedule and how stress can factor into irregular heart function.

Support every step of the way

“We’re here to support patients as they adjust to life with heart device,” said Ringler. “With open communication and mutual trust, patients like Jackie find renewed dedication to take better care of themselves. That means they feel better, stay out of the hospital and hopefully live longer.”

“I’m learning to live stress-free,” Miller said, “and looking forward to life.”