Herring: Pay attention to your heart

Published 3:00 am Saturday, February 18, 2017

Not many people with a heart condition are told to “go fly a kite,” but that’s the direction Karen Herring got from her doctor.

Herring, Troy Medical Center’s marketing director, laughingly talks of her insistence that she be allowed to wait until after the hospital’s fundraising balloon launch before checking into a Birmingham hospital for surgery to correct an aneurysm and a valve problem

Herring had known the day was coming when heart surgery would become necessary.

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Six years earlier, she was diagnosed with a heart that was “out of whack.”

“When I was resting in my recliner or when I was asleep, I could feel my heart racing,” she said. “I went to my primary care physician, Dr. Mickey DiChiara, and he left no stones unturned.”

After a battery of heart tests,  Herring was referred to a physician at UAB where a kink in an artery was found.

“I had a trip planned to New York and I asked if I needed to postpone the trip, but I was told to go to New York and have fun and I did,” Herring said. “When I got home, I had a procedure done where a stent was placed in the artery to straighten the kink.”

An aneurism was found but it was something that Herring could live with and she did, for five years. The valve was the concern.

“The time came when the surgery was necessary,” Herring said. “I did ask to wait until after the balloon launch. I wanted to see that through.”

Herring is a private person and didn’t want it to be generally known that she was going to have open-heart surgery.

“A health condition doesn’t change you, but it changes the people around you,” she said.

Herring knew her family would be worried and she wanted to spare them as much worry as possible.

The surgery was scheduled for November 6, 2016, in Birmingham.

“I told the kids the week before,” she said. “I told them there was no reason to be worried or afraid, that it was in God’s plan. The Lord had it.”

The surgery was successful.  A heart valve was replaced and the aneurysm was repaired.

“The surgeon actually opened up my  heart to work on it,” Herring said. The heart valve was replaced with cow tissue and it should last for several years. I had no real pain from the surgery but I did have problem with breathing. I had fluid in my lungs and it hurt to even try to sit up. But my son, Mitch, coached me saying I had to keep trying to move about if I was going to get up and go home.”

Herring remained in the hospital 11 days rather than the anticipated seven and much of that time, is a foggy memory

“And, that’s probably good,” she said. “But the people – all of them at UAB were phenomenal. I could not have received better care.  They took care of me – them and the Lord.”

Herring said she doesn’t know how she could have made it through the surgery and recovery period without the love and support of her family, friends and the TRMC care team and prayer.

“I don’t know how anyone makes it through without people around them that really care,” she said. “That makes all the difference in the world.

“I was never afraid. I tired to stay positive and sometimes it was hard because anything I did took so much energy. But after eight weeks, I went back to work and I was ready. It felt so good to be back.”

But Herring knows the advances that have been made in heart treatment and surgery, just in the last few years, benefitted her during the surgical procedure and her recovery.

“The cow tissue that was used to replace my heart valve won’t last forever,” she said. “But by the time it has to be replaced, the procedure probably will have advanced to the degree that it’s a rather simple procedure and my chest won’t have to be opened.”

Herring said advancements in the treatment of heart disease and stroke are continually being made that will save lives and make life better for those who are living with heart conditions.

“I encourage  women – and men – to pay attention to your body,” she said. “You know when you’re not feeling right. Don’t ignore the symptoms. Take care of  those you love but also take care of yourself – for you and for them.”