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Deanna Rothstein isn’t someone you’d expect to see being wheeled back for open heart surgery.
As a fitness instructor, she is focused on wellness in her personal and professional life. “My passion is living well and educating others to help them feel stronger: physically, mentally, and emotionally,” Deanna shared.
Deanna works at a wellness and aquatics center in Southern Maryland and has taught personal wellness, fitness, and nutrition classes there. The mom of two maintains a healthy weight and exercises regularly.
But in June 2018, Deanna had a heart attack—shortly before undergoing surgery to treat thyroid cancer at age 48.
At an unrelated appointment, Deanna’s physician Patricia Wehner, MD, FACS, noticed her blood pressure was unusually high. Dr. Wehner’s team recommended she go to the emergency department (ED) at nearby MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital for evaluation. Instead, Deanna promised she would track her own readings over the weekend and go in if the numbers climbed. They didn’t. Following up with her primary care physician on Monday, an EKG showed nothing abnormal.
“I had the thyroid issue already on my plate and was busy, like all of us,” said Deanna, who has a teenage daughter and 21-year-old son. “I didn’t think much more about it.” A month later, she woke up feeling strange.
“I’m very attuned to my body. I knew something wasn’t right,” Deanna shared. “I thought maybe I was having a stroke. I had light chest and arm pains and decided to take my blood pressure.” Deanna’s reading was 171/111—a hypertensive emergency compared to a “normal” range of less than 120/80.
“I don’t know what made me do it, but I dug around and found what was probably an old aspirin, and I took it,” Deanna said. “My doctor said that might be what saved my life.”
Deanna rushed to the ED, where she was quickly assessed.
Deanna was transported to the MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. They found severe blockages in her arteries. According to the American Heart Association, only 10% of those who experience this type of sudden cardiac event outside of a hospital will survive.
Her care team determined it was best to perform open heart surgery. Her double bypass was completed on a Thursday, and Deanna was able to go home to her family on Sunday morning.
Deanna credits the quick work of the ED team at MedStar St. Mary’s with helping her story have its happy ending. “Between the aspirin I took and the thoroughness of the ED staff, I was able to recover and had a positive outcome,” she said. “I have a new appreciation for hospital staff and emergency services. It’s a tough job, what they all do, and I was cared for very well.”
“I understand the balance of life, work, family, children—it can be overwhelming. Many of us prioritize taking care of others rather than ourselves, but it is important to practice self-care.” Commit to yourself and your needs, too, Deanna advised. This could mean booking an overdue doctor’s appointment, making time for healthy meal preparation and exercise, getting a massage, or just taking a walk. “Make time for you,” she said. “Listen to your body, educate yourself, and find out more about your risk factors.”