Volume 126, Number 13
Sheyenne woman fighting heart ailment with experimental procedure
BY SHELL EYL
Linda Drake has a big heart. But, that’s a good thing, right? No, not always.
The medical description for Linda’s condition is congestive heart failure — in its final stages. Her heart muscle is weak, has lost its shape and doesn’t work like it should. The bigger it gets the less forcefully it pumps.
She doesn’t get enough oxygenated blood to feed the cells in her body. She looks healthy enough — maybe a little tired. But heart trouble doesn’t seem to slow down this 65-year-old farm wife from Sheyenne — although she begs to differ.
"I used to get up early and milk 70 head of cattle, work in the field all day, then milk cows again at night and cook and clean in between." And she’s a typical North Dakota farm wife so she’s not bragging, just stating facts.
"I used to climb up and down grain bins all day long. Now some days I can’t even do the dishes without having to stop and rest three or four times. That’s hard for someone like me. But I’m pretty stubborn. That’s why I’m still alive."
Linda is living on borrowed time and she knows it. But that doesn’t seem to bother her all that much. Maybe it’s the farm background that taught her to accept life on life’s terms or maybe she is just plain too stubborn to go down without a fight. And what a battle she’s waged!
Her first indication of a heart problem occurred when she was only 18 years old and pregnant. She got dizzy and almost passed out at the grocery store. That’s not all that uncommon, even today. The difference was her heart was racing way too fast. She was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia and has been on medication ever since.
But, like most young people she planned to live forever. Now she freely admits her heart condition was complicated by eating too much, working too hard and her stubborn refusal to go to the doctor when she was sick. Again, a typical North Dakota farm wife.
After suffering for years trying to control her heart rate through medication, she read an article in Readers Digest about a procedure called heart catheterization. She was a good candidate for the procedure. It was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. in January of 2001. The surgery wasn’t a complete success so they also installed a pacemaker. Her heart was now beating at a slow and steady 60 beats per minute — leaving her feeling a little tired and lethargic. So local doctors decided to crank it up a little bit. But the faster the beat, the sooner the pacemaker battery goes dead.
So in July of 2003 when she kept hearing a beeping noise it took awhile to figure out that it was coming from inside her chest. This was the beginning of a series of replacing and rewiring pacemakers, adjusting medications, being poked and prodded and all the other fun stuff that goes with congestive heart failure. But the beat goes on — and her heart just kept getting bigger.
When she went into a hospital she was never sure if she’d be coming back out. For example, once she was given medication for gout that caused her kidneys to fail. Then she had a gall bladder attack that sent her heart racing out of control. She says that one was so close she went out and bought a grave plot when she got home. "Because you just never know . . . "
Flash forward to August of 2008. Thanks to a new experimental medical device, suddenly Linda Drake has more energy, not to mention more hope. It’s called the HeartNet Ventricular Support system made by Paracor Medical, Inc. The Paracor Web site describes the device as "a super-elastic Nitinol mesh that is designed to wrap around and reinforce the walls of the heart. It provides permanent, gentle support that is designed to help slow or stop the heart enlargement process so that the heart can work more efficiently, ultimately decreasing the debilitating symptoms of heart failure." So basically it hugs the heart and keeps it from getting bigger. Just what the doctor ordered.
After initially being rejected by the research group because of lung issues, in August of 2008 Linda was approved for the procedure and became one of the first 100 people in the US to get this device and only the third at the St. Paul Heart Clinic in St. Paul, Minn. She is under the care of Dr. Alan Bank, who is considered one of the top coronary research doctors in the country.
She says she didn’t have a hard time deciding whether or not she wanted to be used as a human guinea pig. She had very little to lose and a lot to gain. The hardest part of the decision wasn’t the risk, but the timing — having to leave the farm during harvest was hard. But she feels very lucky to have been chosen.
What about the surgery itself? She was cut open under the rib cage. Her ribs were spread apart and the mesh "net" was slipped up around the right and left ventricles of the heart. It is held in place by tiny hooks that eventually grow into the heart tissue, keeping the mesh in place so it can reinforce the muscle and hopefully keep the heart from getting weaker or bigger. A team of eight doctors performed the procedure, which is considered much less invasive than open heart surgery. She spent seven days in the hospital, followed by another week of outpatient rehab in St. Paul.
The surgery was free because it’s experimental and insurance covers much of the rest. But between the traveling and the medications it has been expensive, time consuming and emotionally and physically draining. When asked how she handles it all Linda chuckled and said, "I get through one day at a time with a lot of help from family and friends. And it beats the alternative, I’ll tell you that."
She is currently under the care of Dr. Banks and the research team at the St. Paul Heart Clinic, traveling farther then any other patient in the study. She says they have been just great about coordinating appointments and tests in order to get as much done in as few trips as possible.
She goes to rehab in Devils Lake and stubbornly refuses to use the elevator even when the exertion of climbing the stairs leaves her light-headed and dizzy. She is on oxygen at night but it took about five phone calls to catch her at home during the day because she’s out living life.
She has this advice for young people who want to avoid what she is going through, "Take care of yourself when you’re young and don’t do as you damn well please!" Spoken bluntly . . . like a true farm wife.
Does she have any regrets about having this procedure even if it ultimately doesn’t save her life? Absolutely not! Because everything they learn from her heart will be used to help someone else.
Yes. Linda Drake does indeed have a big heart. And everything the doctors learn from her can be used to help someone else.
Linda Drake of Sheyenne is fighting one heartbeat at a time.
DI teams perform
Two Destination Imagination teams at Leeds have been active this spring. Destination Imagination is an international, long-term problem solving competition where teams of five to seven students research a topic, write a script, make costumes and sets and solve other technical aspects of a team challenge. The "Instinct Messaging" team included, left to right, Ryan Wangler, Rochelle Hansen, Garrett Johnson, Braydon Follman, Arnikka Thompson and Dani Schwanke. Not pictured is Cody Dickey. The team manager was Debbie Dunlap.
The "ViDlo Lit" team included, left to right, Kaylee Lybeck, Richelle Darling, Nikarra Nelsen, Mathias Follman and Adam Fischer. The team managers were Tami Nelsen and Jana Darling. The teams spend about three months creating their solution.
Duck Stamp contest
Leeds Elementary School students hold their honorable mention ribbons received after entering the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Duck Stamp contest. There were 343 entries in the contest. Left to right, back row, are Keaton Nelsen, Julissa McGarvey and Timber Morgan. In the front row are Hailey Gunderson and Grace Nybo.
Leeds Elementary School second grade student Declan Ritterman won second place in the 41st annual Keep North Dakota Clean Poster Contest. Declan, his family and teacher are invited to an awards ceremony and luncheon in Washburn.
Leeds Elementary School second grader Reganne Ritterman won third place out of 127 entries in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Duck Stamp contest. Reganne and one member of her family are invited to an awards banquet in Bismarck on May 2, where she will receive recognition and a prize. Her picture will also be traveling the state as part as the Duck Stamp 2009 Show.
Warwick Elementary School students who had perfect attendance in March are pictured with Elementary Principal Steve Jacobson. Among those with perfect attendance are Shealey Touche, pre-K; Marlin Demarce, Tabitha Joramo, Ben Longie and Keyen Omen, kindergarten; Jackson Delorme and Mallory Demarce, first grade; Jordan Bertsch and Bill Brown, second grade; Destiny Lozensky, third grade; Kristina Archambault, Hailey Redfox and Katelyn Omen, fourth grade; Jace Baker and Samantha Owlboy, fifth grade; and Justin Azure, Meggan Joramo and Danielle Owlboy, sixth grade.
First place winners
The team of Jacob Arnold, left, and Will Rice, right, won first place in the novice division of the Wells County Hippology meet. Jacob is the son of Lynn and Robin Arnold of Esmond and Will is the son of John D. and Barb Rice of Maddock.
The Warwick School Student Council hosted an Easter egg hunt. In the background are Keisha Georgeson and Hailey Yankton. The first graders enjoyed their finds. Left to right are Drew Cavanaugh, Diego Lukins, Chadd Keo, Mariah Redfox, Kalem Jackson, Klint Georgeson, David Mandan, Devin Cavanaugh and Sydney Tollefson.
Left to right are Amber Langstaff, Shayna Black, Jamie Yankton, Caroline Bigtrack and Amanda Robertson of Warwick’s FCCLA class decorating Easter baskets that were sold as a fund raiser at the school. They sold out.
Students of month
March students of the month at the Warwick School are pictured, left to right, back row: Justin Azure, Paul Lawrence, Raeann Leaf and Destiny Lozensky. Front row: Maddie Leaf, Devin Cavanaugh, Jayla Guy and Shealey Touche.
Ambulance service has event at Leeds
Sunday, April 19 marked the 3rd annual Leeds Ambulance Appreciation soup and sandwich lunch at the Leeds Community Center. Approximately 200 people were served soup and sandwiches with a free will offering while enjoying trying out the ambulance equipment and getting free blood pressure checks. EMT-I Jody Nelsen does a blood pressure check on Paul Peterson. In the background are EMT-I Rio Himle and Inez Klein waiting her turn. The vacuum mattresses in the background were donated by Alvin Kenner to the Leeds Ambulance Service.
Leeds Ambulance Service board member Curt Jacobson greets people at the door.
Chas Bisbee, son of Charlie and Tamie Bisbee, is strapped into the peds vacuum mattress.
Braydon Follman, son of Kelly and Nancy Follman, tries out the large vacuum mattress while a crowd of kids looks on. Holding his hand is his sister, Rakel Follman.
Kimberly Nelsen gets strapped up in the peds vacuum mattress.
EMT-I Rio Himle demonstrates techniques on a Resuscitation Annie model.