For 37 of her 38 years working with Mercy, Sadie Tuckness has been with a team that cares for patients as they’re first recovering from heart surgery. The cardiovascular intensive care unit has successfully treated hundreds of patients who’ve had open heart surgery.
Through the years, she says, “I’m amazed by all of the medical advances I’ve seen us do here."
However, Tuckness says she tried to ignore her own symptoms of heart failure, fearing that she too would eventually need intensive heart care. “When you’re in health care, I think it’s easier to ignore your own problems, but I couldn’t deny it any longer. I couldn’t walk 50 feet without getting exhausted.”
Eventually, her husband and her co-workers convinced her to see a doctor; her co-workers suggested Dr. Gerard Oghlakian, a founding cardiologist in the Advanced Heart Failure Clinic and one of the first heart failure specialists in Southwest Missouri. “That was last August, and Dr O. told me that I might live five more years if I didn’t change my lifestyle with diet and exercise. I knew he was right. I had to change.”Tuckness was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. At that point, she was only 59, but she weighed more than 300 pounds. Although her labs looked fine, an X-ray showed fluids around her heart. Other tests showed that her heart was enlarged and working at just a fraction of what it should. “An ejection fraction (EF) measured by an echocardiogram is supposed to be 55 percent or above; mine was 25.” Thankfully, she didn’t have a blockage or valve problems. Under her doctor's care, as well as a clinical nutritionist, she began daily medications, put the clamp on her meal portions and carved out time to walk as frequently as possible. “My co-workers and I walk laps around the unit as many times a day as we can. There’s a marker every 25 feet on the floor, so I know how far I’ve walked.” As a result, she lost 110 pounds, her EF rose to 58 percent, and her heart is back down to normal size. “I feel 25 years younger,” she said. “Sure, I’ll have to continue watching my condition and taking the meds for the rest of my life, but I’ve ultimately reversed my life without having to have surgery.” As the unit’s secretary all these years, Tuckness has been the go-to person for prompt clerical assistance as doctors and nurses support patients recovering from heart surgery. She never dreamed that her life’s story could have a direct impact on saving others. But today, she does. “When we have a patient who’s in the same spot that I was, Dr. O. asks me to talk with them,” Tuckness explains. “I show them my old badge picture, then I tell them how I’ve changed my life, and that they can, too.” Make no mistake, changing lifelong habits is hard to do, she admits, but “it’s a lot easier when you have the kind of support I’ve had. My unit techs, the nurses, doctors, my unit clinical nutritionist, and my unit PT were all here to cheer me on.” Tuckness is proud to return the favor and continue supporting her co-workers. But what’s even more gratifying, she adds: “I’m one of the clinic’s first patients, and perhaps I can be an inspiration to others.”Show EMS Sitewide: