In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

February 4, 2016

By Listening to Her Heart, Retired Educator Beat the Odds

By In the Loop

Gayle Kleppe, a self-described heart disease survivor, hopes that sharing her story with others will help save lives, one patient at a time.Gayle Kleppe spent her career as an elementary school teacher and principal. And though she's now retired, she's still an educator at heart. Now it's all about the heart, as the self-described "heart disease survivor," is on a mission "to educate and help others" about heart disease risks, after it nearly silenced her.

Her journey that began about a year ago, when a routine exam revealed slight elevations in Gayle's blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A few months later, shortly after her 65th birthday, Gayle noticed that she was "getting short of breath with exertion" and that she "felt pressure and a burning sensation at the base of her neck," according to the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Leader-Telegram. Turns out the teacher is also a good student, and listened to what her body was trying to tell her. The symptoms "caught my attention," Gayle tells the newspaper. Concerned, she scheduled an appointment with her family physician. That led to a series of tests that revealed blockages in Gayle's arteries. Fearghas O'Cochlain, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, "placed three stents to open her arteries" during coronary angioplasty.

According to the paper, Gayle "knew her condition was serious" but didn't initially realize how serious. Because her arteries were so severely blocked— one was 100 percent blocked and another, 80 percent blocked — cardiologist Andrew Calvin, M.D., told Gayle a heart attack "could have been deadly." She could easily have become a statistic. Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death among women, responsible for 1 of every 3 deaths. According to the American Heart Association, many of those deaths could be prevented through "education and action." That's the goal of National Wear Red Day, sponsored by the group, on Friday, Feb. 5.

Today, Gayle is doing well and credits her "supportive, professional and caring" team of providers with giving her "a renewed life." That includes the cardiac rehabilitation team she says helped her regain her "good health" by easing her into an exercise program. Gayle again proved an exceptional student, completing a 12-week program in just eight weeks. To celebrate, she wore a giant heart costume to her last appointment (which happened to be on Halloween). We're told that caused "some excitement" and "lots of laughter" among the staff and patients. Though she believes "laughter is good medicine," Gayle takes her diagnosis "very seriously." And she hopes that sharing her story with others will "help save lives, one patient at a time."

Those in the Eau Claire area can hear more from Gayle at the "Her Story, Her Heart" event on Thursday, Feb. 18. And no matter where you are, you can warm our hearts by leaving a comment below, and then use the social media tools to share this story with others.

Tags: cardiology, Dr Andrew Calvin, Dr Fearghas O'Cochlain, Mayo Clinic Health System, Patient Stories

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