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Heart to heart: Triple bypass survivor encourages getting Sanford’s new screening

Jana Tronier prepares a salad at her south Fargo home. jana had triple bypass surgery at age 43 and now has a new outlook on life. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO - Jana Tronier doesn’t look like the “typical” heart disease patient.

The 44-year-old Fargo woman is fit and healthy. But, she had several risk factors for cardiovascular disease – she’s diabetic, she had high cholesterol, and her dad had a quintuple bypass at age 45.

Still, for several years, her recurring symptoms were brushed off as stress, anxiety or dehydration.

“At times, the pain in my chest was excruciating, my arms were numb nearly all the time, and I ate Tums like candy because of heartburn,” she wrote in her story on the American Heart Association’s website.

Finally, this past summer, she broke down and pleaded with her doctor to give her a stress test.

A few minutes in, a team of cardiologists were in the room, telling her her heart was “crying” and prepping her for an angiogram.

“From there, they found out that two of my arteries were completely, 100 percent blocked, and then another one was 80 percent blocked,” she says.

The next day, Tronier, one of the estimated 43 million women in the U.S. affected by heart disease, underwent triple bypass surgery.

“My head was spinning it happened so fast,” she says.

Her cardiologist, Dr. Heeraimangalore Manjunath, says it’s not uncommon for heart disease in women to go undetected.

“Women’s symptoms pertaining to heart attacks are slightly different and will not be taken, sometimes, seriously by the patient, or the family, or even the physicians,” he says.

‘What is $50?’

Though it’s not targeted specifically toward women, Sanford Health’s new “Heart Screen,” a $50 assessment that scores patients’ risk of heart disease, can help catch it earlier in women like Tronier– or at least give them some peace of mind.

“We take care of everybody else, and we forget about our symptoms that we may be having, and we blame other things – we’re too busy, we’re too stressed – and we don’t always listen to our own bodies,” says Holly Boub, Sanford’s Cardiac Rehab manager, who oversees the program.

Screening includes a blood-pressure check, a cholesterol check, an EKG, and, with moderate to high Framingham (risk) scores, a CT scan that checks for calcification of the coronary arteries.

Anyone between the ages of 25 and 75 with no known heart disease is eligible; no referral needed. All you have to do is call (701) 23-HEART to set up an appointment. Perhaps because it’s American Heart Month, Sanford’s booking two-three weeks out, Boub says, but patients can usually get in within a week.

Since it first became available in late fall 2013, more than 300 people – about equally split between men and women – have had the Heart Screen.

Of those, five had stents put in, “which is an amazing number, really, simply because we’ve prevented a heart attack, which leads to heart damage, which leads to long-term medical care and expense, and quality of life can certainly be affected when you have a heart attack,” Boub says.

She says a majority (55 percent to 60 percent) get a referral of some sort, whether it’s back to a primary-care physician or to a nutritionist, diabetes educator or cardiologist.

Tronier encourages anyone who’s concerned about their heart health to do the Heart Screen.

“You’d rather be safe than sorry. I mean, really, what is $50?” she says, adding that her own heart disease probably would’ve been caught earlier if she’d had the option.

‘You’re fair game’

Before she was wheeled into surgery, Tronier told her husband, whom she calls her “rock,” “If I live, something great is going to come of this.”

Later, as she was regaining her strength, she found her voice, with the help of the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women.

“I knew that I wanted to do something to get the word out there, because if somebody had told me that you don’t have to have high blood pressure, you don’t have to be obese, there are so many things you don’t have to be and it can be your heart, I would have probably listened better,” she says.

Tronier has made it her mission to spread the word about heart disease risk and prevention, giving talks at various events in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“One in three women die of heart disease. That’s crazy, and we need to get the word out there, because it can happen to anybody. If you have a heart, you’re fair game. There’s no prejudice with heart disease,” she says.

Spreading the word has become easier now that she’s feeling better.

Manjunath says there is a chance of recurrence, but Tronier manages her condition with heart medication, cholesterol medication, a healthy diet and regular exercise.

“I have energy that I didn’t think existed, and so I’m doing a million things. It’s incredible,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s because I came so close to death, or what, but my life is forever changed.”

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