Patty Sulosky of Davidsville knew there was heart disease in her family, but she never thought it would strike her at 55.
So when she started having discomfort on June 30, 2012, she wrote it off as heartburn.
“I have sugar,” Sulosky said at Windber HealthStyles fitness center. “I figured I’d go eat something, but it didn’t take it away.”
The pain did ease later that day, so she and her husband, Bill, went out to dinner.
But the “heartburn” returned that night, and Patty Sulosky soon realized it was more than a bellyache.
“I asked the Lord to make it through until morning and I’d go to the hospital,” she said.
Her husband drove her to Windber Medical Center’s emergency room, but she was immediately taken by ambulance to Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown. There, Dr. Cyril Nathaniel of Laurel Cardiology placed two stents to open a blood vessel supplying the heart.
“The blockage was 99 percent,” she said.
After Nathaniel and Memorial’s emergency department team saved her life, Sulosky determined to restore herself to better health. Within two weeks of discharge from Memorial, she was back at Windber Medical Center to begin cardiac rehabilitation.
The 12-week exercise and education program includes nutrition information and help with medication management.
Sulosky had nothing but good things to say about her experience.
“These people here are amazing,” she said “They are very giving and their heart is huge. They care about every individual.”
Starting slowly, Sulosky was able to work her way up to 20 minutes on the treadmill, followed by four eight-minute sessions on stationary bicycles and a rowing machine.
“It’s you, individually, working your rear end off to try to get healthier,” she said.
After 12 weeks of exercise and healthier diet, Sulosky dropped 7 pounds and lowered her overall cholesterol by 200 mg. Triglycerides were down 131 mg and LDL levels dropped 178 mg.
“I improved a lot,” she said.
After completing the initial rehab series, Sulosky continued coming to the same fitness facility as a member of Windber’s HealthStyles. The staff of exercise physiologists has helped her keep track of her progress and improved numbers.
But her determination does not end with a new commitment to exercise.
“It’s a lifestyle change,” she said. “We changed our eating habits. We try to get here (HealthStyles) at least three times a week, if not more.”
Cardiac rehabilitation director Gary Pagano said Sulosky is an example of someone who has followed through on cardiac rehab’s message.
“It is certainly up to the individual,” Pagano said. “There are some who continue to be in denial – believing that everything is going to be OK once they have the stent or bypass.”
Sadly, that’s not usually the case for those who don’t address their risk factors, he said.
“Most of them have a number of events,” he said.
Sulosky said her experience has changed more than her diet and exercise habits.
“You don’t take life for granted,” she said. “You grab onto every moment.”
Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/photogriffer57.