8/24/18

Doctors help patient get heart healthy for life-saving surgery

Jenny Burrell beforeAfter Jenny Burrell lost her mom to complications of diabetes, she took a long, hard look at her own life. At 44 and 440 pounds, Jenny was morbidly obese and had a weak heart.

She couldn’t walk out to the field to watch her grandson play football.

She was on the fast track to either heart-related complications or succumbing to the complications of diabetes like her mother.

Instead, she sought help from her Mattoon doctor, Kristine Carpenter, MD, who started Burrell on the path that helped her lose 200 pounds, get off her diabetes medications and learn to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“Jenny came to me on 23 different medications and was severely morbidly obese,” Carpenter said. “At our first meeting, we were able to accomplish discussing her weight and the problems associated with it. She had contemplated bariatric surgery, but her heart was too weak for surgery.”

But instead of simply accepting that and ruling out a potentially life-saving surgery, Carpenter consulted with cardiologist Andrea Brasch, MD, at Carle Heart & Vascular Institute, and the two physicians came up with a plan to get Burrell’s heart strong enough for the bariatric surgery.

“Heart-related stories don’t always have happy endings,” Brasch said. “While we can do a lot to support our patients with heart failure, making dramatic life changes and committing to improve health can and does work. In Jenny’s case, I’m so glad it did, and I’m honored to be part of the team that supported her then and continues to support her.”

Burrell underwent extensive diagnostic testing and received a heart function-synchronizing pacemaker, which enabled her to undergo the bariatric procedure.

Burrell said it took about 18 months from the time she and the physicians agreed this was the plan of action they needed to follow.

“It was a lot of work on Dr. Carpenter’s part to make this happen,” she said. “I met with her every month. Before that it was a yo-yo. I’d get sick, and then I’d gain more weight. It was just horrible. She knew that the only way we were going to break this cycle was to have this surgery.

“She was diligent about finding a way to make it happen.”

Burrell's next surgery will be for something very few in the medical community have ever done, and that’s remove her pacemaker.

“When do you ever remove a pacemaker?” Carpenter asked. “Most people who get a pacemaker need it for the rest of their lives.

“Plus, she’s off of all her diabetic medications. We had her on insulin, but her diabetes is practically gone because of her lifestyle changes and surgery.”

Jenny Burrell and Dr. CarpenterBurrell feels like a completely different person.

“I have a different life now,” she said. “It’s amazing. I can do simple things now like stand long enough to take a shower. I can cook a meal without having to sit down. I can do the dishes.

“I will never go back to where I came from. I am very diligent about portion sizes and not overeating. I really enjoy my new life and I want to keep it that way.”

Burrell’s short-term goal is to lose 70 to 80 more pounds. She works out at Planet Fitness and has a long-term goal of doing Zumba classes.

“They look so fun to me. I can’t do it yet, but I’ll get there,” she said.

Burrell’s healthy habits rubbed off on her family as well. Her husband has lost 35 pounds, and her son lost 40. 

She wanted to tell her story so she could shine a light on the team that helped her overcome seemingly impossible odds.

“Everybody needs to know the miraculous things that happen because Dr. Carpenter and Dr. Brasch go to work every day,” she said.

If you have questions or concerns about your weight and your heart health, speak to your primary care provider or reach out to the Carle Heart & Vascular Institute. To learn more about bariatric surgery and support at Carle, please call (217) 383-3240. Carle also offers free online seminars.

“The team of physicians at Carle have given me my life back,” Burrell said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to get to see my children get married. Now I am positive that I will.”