One nurse’s journey from caretaker to patient to advocate.
Lori Colineri has spent most of her life caring for everyone else. Starting her career as a critical care nurse Lori has taken care of the sickest of the sick. She has also had family members and friends who have dealt with countless conditions – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, dementia – and it has always been Lori’s job to worry about them and keep them on track.
That was, until her own story with heart health began. It was in a Medical Executive meeting with a room full of physician leaders that Lori noticed her heart pounding and beating irregularly. While her job could be stressful, this was more than just stress, she just didn’t feel right!
Being the good nurse that she is, she discreetly slipped her hand under her sleeve and took her own pulse. It was really irregular! She knew she needed someone else to validate her concerns, but she was at work, so she finished out that meeting, went to two more meetings and then finally asked a colleague to check her pulse. He agreed her pulse was really irregular, but instead of getting help, Lori went to some more meetings!
After several meetings, the irregular heartbeats got so bad that she went over to the emergency room and put herself on a portable cardiac monitor… alone, with no one to see her. Lori thought for a second that she might have inherited a conduction disorder – Atrial Fibrillation – from her grandfather but was shocked to see on the monitor that she did not.
Instead, she was having a bunch of Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs), which are extra heartbeats that begin in one of your heart’s two lower pumping chambers (ventricles). These extra beats disrupt your regular heart rhythm, sometimes causing you to feel a fluttering or a skipped beat in your chest.
Luckily for Lori who worked in a hospital, she had a few friends she could call on to help. First, she called the director of the catheterization lab to check the monitor. The doctor confirmed that Lori was experiencing PVCs and called the medical director of the ER. At this point, Lori began to feel nervous and was ready to run out of the room. For all the patients she had seen in over 33 years of nursing, she had never been in this seat before.
Another physician was called into the room and took Lori’s blood pressure. It was sky high and more panic set in. The next day, Lori went to see a cardiologist who prescribed a plethora of tests to figure out the cause of the PVCs. After three months of testing and the symptoms getting worse, there were still no answers.
But again, as the good nurse she was, Lori decided that feeling bad all the time and knowing that something was really wrong, she could not keep going without answers. She called another doctor for a second opinion and they ordered more tests. She finally felt like she was on the road to finding some answers and feeling better.
Then the next morning, Lori was talking to her daughter on the phone. Mid-conversation, Lori told her daughter she didn’t feel well, to call her father and within a split-second Lori went down. She had a near-fatal arrhythmia that thankfully broke and Lori woke up feeling dazed and confused. Her husband helped her off the floor, and like a good Italian husband, decided she needed to eat and made her toast.
As Lori gathered her head around the fact that she had just blacked out, she called the doctor who had run the tests the day prior. He told her to get to the hospital immediately. Lori was experiencing ventricular tachycardia, which is an abnormally fast heart rate (similar to her PVCs). She needed to undergo a ventricular ablation, a procedure which uses radiofrequency energy to destroy a small area of the heart tissue that is causing the rapid and irregular heartbeats.
Although the procedure worked and Lori is doing much better, she often has anxiety about that day that she passed out, wondering if it will happen again. Thanks to the research and education funded by organizations like the American Heart Association, Lori is able to live a healthy, full life. She can continue her work as a healthcare provider, wife, mother and grandmother!
For Lori, family is why. Lori has teamed up with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement to bring more awareness to women’s heart health. You can join Lori at the Garden State Go Red for Women Luncheon on Thursday, May 23 for a day of education, awareness and inspiration to learn more about women’s heart health and to help fund the research and education to help save more lives.