Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 15, 2013

A celebration of survival on Valentine’s Day

Tim Preston
The Independent

BELLEFONTE — Often holding hands and wearing red clothing for Valentine’s Day, dozens of local survivors of heart disease gathered to celebrate with a meal Thursday at Bellefonte Country Club during Kings Daughter’s Medical Center’s first Heart-To-Heart luncheon.

 “The event is designed to help attendees share hope, support and their stories of survival on Valentine’s Day, the day of the year most associated with hearts, smack-dab in the middle of heart month,” said KDMC spokesperson Beth Caruthers.

In addition to sharing lunch and trading stories about their own discovery and survival of heart attacks and other heart-related illness, the survivors and their guests heard from KDMC Nurse Angie Vallance, who shared her own close encounter with heart disease.

“I really had no symptoms other than dizziness. It was like someone grabbed my chair and just spun me around in circles,” Vallance, of Russell, said while luncheon guests found their seats. Vallance said her co-workers soon determined her blood pressure was elevated, but had to convince her to pursue further testing which ultimately pinpointed the problem, allowing a proper diagnosis and multiple bypass surgery.

Today, vallance smiles as she reports she hasn’t missed any work since her initial recovery, and feels wonderful. If she hadn’t listened to her fellow nurses, especially nurse Brooke Roberts who kept after her to have an EKG test, Vallance said, “I probably wouldn’t be standing here today.”

Vallance was introduced by her physician, cardiothoracic surgeon Robert Fried, M.D., who pointed out Vallance’s story illustrates the “atypical” and even subtle symptoms women often experience before a heart attack.

In one corner of the country club dining hall, heart-attack survivor John Balmer, 81, and wife, Rose, enjoyed catching up with old friends who’ve experienced similar health challenges. Balmer explained he and his wife were runners for 30 years, even participating in marathons, before he suffered a heart attack while deer hunting. Balmer recalled the day when he and several others were out in the woods, and his own pride after shooting an eight-point buck before his heart let him know he was in trouble.

“I slid it across the snow and I got about halfway to where the road was and I couldn’t breathe. I mean ... I could breathe, but it wasn’t doing me any good,” with the priorities of a dedicated hunter, Balmer said he called someone else to drag the deer home before considering his own circumstances.

 “I sat down and sort of fell off a rock and I barely remember being put in a truck,” he said, later adding his health care team did a fantastic job getting him back up and out in the woods.

“Now, we walk six miles, three days a week,” he said with a grin. “A heart attack doesn’t necessarily stop you.”

More than 50 local survivors from heart disease, which is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S., attended the Heart-To-Heart luncheon.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.