By Jennie Zeitler
February is American Heart Month, focusing on heart health — something Alvina Van Drehle is familiar with after a diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 1997.
While the diagnosis has had a minimal impact on her, it is nonetheless something that is part of her daily life.
Alvina Rudnicki grew up in St. Wendel. She moved to St. Cloud for several years before marrying and moving near Elrosa in 1973. All three of her children live in Central Minnesota and she has been blessed with five grandchildren.
Van Drehle, now a loan officer at Freeport State Bank’s Greenwald branch, married Alfred Van Drehle in 2002. They live in Spring Hill.
During a routine physical examination in 1997, Van Drehle’s doctor picked up a pronounced heart murmur. When she told him that she had experienced shortness of breath, tests such as an echocardiogram and an angiogram were performed.
She was also sent to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester for further evaluation and the diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was confirmed.
“I was only in my 40s and with no family history of heart problems,” she said. “I just thought, ‘I’m getting older.’”
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick. Often, only one part of the heart is thicker than other areas. The thickening can make it harder for blood to leave the heart, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood.
“The left side of my heart muscle is thicker, which could cause an irregular heartbeat,” said Van Drehle.
Doctors at Central Minnesota Heart Center in St. Cloud observe her condition at annual physicals.
“In 2011, it had progressed over the previous couple of years to the point where they thought I needed a pacemaker/defibrillator,” she said.
A pacemaker/implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) was inserted Dec. 5, 2011, in St. Cloud.
“I will have it the rest of my life,” said Van Drehle. “It’s possible I could have sudden cardiac arrest.”
Neither feature has kicked in after more than two years, something that would happen automatically if a problem cropped up.
The device’s presence above her heart has not changed anything about Van Drehle’s life. She was counseled not to lift her left arm for six weeks after its insertion to let the area heal, but now she leads a normal life.
“I still exercise,” she said. “The only things they said were ‘no marathon running’ and ‘no really heavy lifting.’”
Since those were activities Van Drehle was not involved in, that didn’t present a problem.
Van Drehle can be monitored remotely by medical care personnel in St. Cloud, something that is done on a three-month schedule while she is sleeping.
“The monitor uses the phone line,” said Van Drehle. “I’m not even aware it’s happening.”
She was told at the Heart Center that thousands of people have the ICD device. She was advised to be cautious of anything magnetic.
“I will never have another magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),” she said. “I use my cell phone on the right side of my body.”
Van Drehle takes two medications daily, something she will do for the rest of her life.
She still experiences some shortness of breath now and then, sporadically and unpredictably.
“I might have no problem with a two-mile walk but could experience a lot of trouble breathing after just bending over to pick something up from the floor,” she said.
Van Drehle is impressed with the technology available to treat her condition.
“The level of care is fantastic,” she said. “I’m impressed with the Heart Center. They do a wonderful job in St. Cloud.”
She reminds anyone who experiences symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain to get checked out by a doctor.
“It’s been said that women tend to ignore symptoms,” she said. “Don’t put it off.”
Van Drehle continues to enjoy her family and enjoy life.
“That’s what you should do,” she said.
Women are invited to wear red Friday to raise awareness about the fight against heart disease in women.