A heartbeat away from tragedy

Uncovering a hidden heart issue helped Aurora patient stay on a healthy path

Angeline Maglio discusses her diagnosis of heart block and her pacemaker procedure.

Angeline Maglio is an exercise buff. Wanting a healthier lifestyle, she changed her diet and began exercising, ultimately losing an incredible 90 pounds. She keeps fit through regular, varied workouts.

One of her favorite types is cycling – on-road and off-road. In fact, you’ll often find Angeline training for races at an intense indoor cycling or “spin” class. Now, she can also credit her weight loss, healthier lifestyle – and spinning – for helping to save her life.

During one spin class, Angeline’s instructor had the group check their heart rates. Angeline was told to expect a heart rate of about 160. She was surprised that hers was in the mid-80s, half of what it should be.

After class, she spoke with her instructor, who urged her to see a doctor.

Angeline met with her primary care doctor, Ellen Leeney, MD, and told her about the low heart rate during exercise. She also told her about symptoms she’d been having: dizziness, lightheadedness and feeling very fatigued.

“I had dealt with that for a long time, but I always assumed they were due to stress or the like,” Angeline explains. “There are so many things you can blame it on.” But both doctor and patient knew it was time to act. Dr. Leeney ordered an EKG, which showed a problem – Angeline had first-degree heart block.

Heart-stopping news

Angeline Maglio

Through lifestyle changes and intense exercise, Angeline lost 90 pounds since this picture was taken.

Interestingly, heart block doesn’t have to do with blocked arteries; it is instead an electrical issue. A person’s heartbeat is created by a signal that starts in the heart’s upper right chamber. The current travels down to the ventricles, signaling them to contract and pump blood out to the body. For those with heart block, the electrical impulse moves slower than normal.

“It was pretty scary,” Angeline says. “I needed more testing, so Dr. Leeney referred me to Dr. Dhala.”

Anwer  Dhala, MD, a cardiovascular and electrophysiology specialist at Aurora, ran more tests on Angeline’s heart. He found that Angeline had not first-degree heart block, but third-degree heart block. And despite the fact that she was young, active and had a healthy lifestyle, Angeline needed a pacemaker.

“I was shocked. I thought, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy…people my age don’t get pacemakers,” Angeline says.

At her family’s urging, she decided to pursue a second opinion in a different health care system. When the second opinion confirmed that a pacemaker was required, Angeline came back to Aurora for surgery. “I wanted to go back to Aurora, where I was originally. Where I felt comfortable. I’m glad I did,” she says.

In May 2011, Angelina had a pacemaker implanted by Dr. Dhala.

“The day I had my pacemaker put in, I told my mother it felt like I had oxygen in my head. You don’t realize how bad you feel until you feel good,” Angeline recalls.

An unexpected find

Did you know?

Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center as a tertiary care center provides a wide variety of heart care procedures such as Pacemaker Implants, Heart Bypass Surgery, Angioplasty, Stents, Heart Valve Surgery and other state of the art procedures. 

While the surgery was a success, during the surgery, Dr. Dhala found that Angeline’s heart block was caused by congenitally corrected transposition of the great arteries (CCTGA), a rare heart defect usually detected at birth.

In a normal heart, the left ventricle sends blood to the entire body. The right ventricle only pumps blood to the nearby lungs. The left ventricle is built stronger, with thicker walls than the right ventricle, because it has to work harder.

“Basically, the ventricles are backward,” Angeline explains.

Her weaker right ventricle was pumping blood to her entire body, and the stress was causing it to deteriorate. Angeline’s had not been detected for 34 years. As a result, her case was severe. After surgery, Dr. Dhala referred Angeline to Jamil Tajik, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Aurora.

Dr. Tajik regularly performs her echocardiograms and has her on a medication to help manage her CCTGA. “I’m so grateful to be under his care,” Angeline states. With his help, Angeline’s heart – and health – is in good hands.

Compassionate care

Angeline is pleased she chose to stay within the Aurora system for her care. “I’m very grateful to Aurora,” she says. “The doctors are wonderful; I can’t say enough about them. They made a really difficult experience easier.”

She is impressed by the communication between the doctors. “Dr. Dahla’s assistant will find out how my echocardiograms with Dr. Tajik went. They’ll know that I had my medication adjusted, and ask about that. There is such great communication between all my doctors and their staffs – they cover all bases. I really feel like I’m being taken care of.”

Angeline also appreciates the compassionate care she received. “I really felt like they all cared about me – not just as a patient, but as a person. I feel very grateful.”

Full speed ahead

Now Angeline has a new lease on life. No longer is she dogged by dizziness, feeling faint or fatigued. She has the energy for the workouts she loves. “Now I can work out and my heart rate is in the 140s or 150s,” she says.

Angeline encourages people to learn about heart health, and to pay attention to your body. “It’s amazing how little people know about how your body works, or what your heart rate is supposed to be,” she notes. “If you feel something’s not right, you need to say so. Listen to your body.”

She has also set new challenges for the future, including a 36-mile bike ride in the Trek 100 Ride for Hope. “It’s a big goal for me,” she explains. Three years ago she did the race, but “at mile 30, I thought I was going to die. I was sweating, nauseous.” Now she knows it was the result of her heart block, and the full weight of the experience hit her. “I’m so lucky nothing happened,” she says. “But I’m determined to do it again,” she smiles.

And with her unbeatable spirit, her increased heart rate and her Aurora care team, she will.