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Frightening Heart Complications from a Common Virus

An Undiagnosed Illness

Tina Frey

Tina Frey knew there was something terribly wrong. Over the course of several months, she went from being a busy young mom with a demanding career to struggling with life's most basic activities, like walking and breathing.

Doctors close to Tina's home couldn't find anything wrong. They were convinced that the cause of her symptoms was the stress of a young working mom. They encouraged her to exercise more - to get back into shape. But the more Tina pushed, the more the sickness pushed back. She was getting worse as time went on.

"I felt like I was at death's door"

After several months with no improvement, Tina went back to her primary care doctor and urged for thorough testing. A new X-ray showed that Tina's heart was enlarged; she needed a cardiologist.

At her cardiology appointment, Tina's echocardiogram - a routine test to check the heart – showed a dangerously enlarged heart. Ejection fraction graphicTina was immediately admitted to her local hospital. There, it was discovered that her heart was weak and struggling to pump blood adequately. With an ejection fraction of only 25%, Tina was diagnosed with heart failure. To compensate, her heart tried to fill up with more blood, causing it to stretch and beat faster – a condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy.

With Tina's condition deteriorating, her local hospital recommended she go to the Heart Failure Program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. By the time Tina reached Penn, her EF had dropped to 15%. The doctors sprang into action, working to stabilize her heart.

Tina's Road to Recovery

A week later, Tina was strong enough to go home. When she walked out of the hospital, she had a fist-full of medications, a heart healthy lifestyle plan and, most importantly, a LifeVest external defibrillator. This device would shock her heart back into rhythm in the event of a cardiac arrest.

The diagnosis and treatment plan were daunting, but now there was a team of experts behind her. After months of medication adjustments, Tina felt better and her EF improved. She was monitored closely by the Penn Heart Failure team and over the course of the year she became healthier - slowly feeling like herself again.

Why did Tina get sick?

Cardiomyopathy can be caused by a number of different conditions; chemotherapy, uncontrolled blood pressure, pregnancy, heart attack and even genetics. For Tina, the most probable cause was viral. Her son had contracted the coxsackie virus over a year prior to her heart failure diagnosis.

Nearly a year later, the virus is undetectable in Tina's blood, her EF has improved to 40%, and she is stable enough to start cardiac rehabilitation.Tina Frey

Tina's Message for Everyone

Tina is participating in the 2016 Philly Heart Walk to share an important message. "If I would have gotten treatment sooner, we may have been able to stop or slow down the progression of this disease," says Tina. "I hope that my story can inspire others to be their own advocate, to live heart healthy, to be the change." 

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.


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