Marie: “70 years young”
Marie Stavropoulos and her husband, Pete, enjoy their life in retirement. After working for years, the couple values time spent with their children and grandchildren, as well as winters spent on sunny Marco Island, Florida, in a condo overlooking warm gulf waters. Active in her church community, and an avid swimmer and reader, Marie had few complaints; until atrial fibrillation became a daily occurrence, changing everything.
“I was in Chicago shopping with my sisters,” she remembers. “Suddenly I began to feel a horrific pounding in my chest, and I thought to myself, “This is it.” I felt like I was going to die.” She went directly to the hospital where a battery of tests was performed, to no conclusion. The symptoms persisted for the next year, nearly every day, but tended to subside by the time she was in the hands of a medical professional. “The feeling of going into A-fib is horrible—incapacitating—just an erratic pounding of my heart inside my chest. And the episodes would last for two to five hours before my heart would finally calm down.”
“She was just so exhausted all the time,” recalls Pete. “She could hardly walk from the parking lot into church and back. I had to carry her purse for her, that’s how worn out she was.” Marie began to have to rely on Pete for everything, from cooking to cleaning. While she was grateful for his love and constant support, she knew that atrial fibrillation was aging her well beyond her years. When Pete went to visit his family in Greece, Marie had to stay behind, scared to death of being too far away from a hospital.
A month later they were wintering in Florida, and Marie found herself in the emergency room three weekends in a row. Finally diagnosed, her doctor in Naples warned her that something needed to be done soon, as her heavy regimen of medications was doing nothing to quell her erratic heartbeat. A catheter ablation procedure was advised as the next course of action. “One of her doctors told us that if it were him, he would have it done at the University of Michigan, because two of the best doctors for this in the entire country were right there,” says Pete. “There was no hesitation. We decided to go back to Michigan immediately.”
The administration acted quickly to work Marie into Dr. Oral’s schedule. Within just a few days she was sitting in his office as he explained the details of the ablation procedure. “By the time I went to see Dr. Oral, I was so exhausted and tired of feeling this way that I was ready to do anything,” says Marie. “I wasn’t afraid of the procedure at all, I just wanted to make my life complete again. Dr. Oral was very kind and confident, explained exactly what was going to happen, and I trusted that he was one of the best.”
The procedure was successful, and Marie describes her recovery as “a breeze.” Before long she and Pete were back in the Florida sunshine, and Marie has never experienced another major episode. The best part about her recovery? “The peace of mind,” she says. “We can finally sleep at night without worry. I know my own limitations; I take it easy and keep things simple, but I can do everything I want to do.” Now nearly one year post-surgery, Marie has been taken off nearly all of her medications, and she points unending gratitude toward the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. “I put Dr. Oral on a pedestal, and his wonderful assistant Anna Bollman on a pedestal right beside him. I just felt like they gave me 100% of their attention. You can’t imagine how secure it makes you feel to have that level of support.”