Published on February 28, 2020

Area Woman Makes Lifestyle Changes after Heart Surgery at Silver Cross

Cindy Westergaard’s cardiac history began three-years ago when leg pain literally stopped in her tracks! Every few feet, the Frankfort woman would have to stop and rest.

“I knew something didn’t seem right when I had difficulty walking. Many of my jobs required me to be on my feet all day, but this type of pain in my legs seemed different. That’s when I saw my primary doctor, Michele Danaher M.D., and she referred me to a cardiologist,” Westergaard, 62, explains.

Woman getting blood pressure from nurseCynthia Westergaard of Frankfort (left) is enjoying cardiac rehabilitation at Silver Cross Hospital following her recent open heart surgery. She’s pictured with Kimberly Mason, R.N., at Silver Cross Hospital.

Eventually, she had stents placed in the arteries of her heart and legs to restore blood flow. But her story doesn’t end there.

Today, Westergaard is an enthusiastic patient in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, where she’s recovering from coronary artery bypass surgery and feeling better than ever!

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women over age 25 in the United States. Women may experience different symptoms than the typical chest discomfort, shortness of breath, pain in the neck, jaw, throat or upper abdomen.

“Before my own heart issues, I just thought everyone experienced chest pain. After my first heart procedure I learned it can show up differently in women,” said Westergaard.

Women may feel a fullness in the center of their chest, break out in a cold sweat, pain in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath without chest discomfort, nausea or vomiting.

Over the past few years, Westergaard has had regular check-ups with her cardiologist, Parag Jain, M.D., F.A.C.C. Last year she mentioned to Dr. Jain she was feeling more fatigued than usual, which prompted him to order further testing, including an angiogram, a diagnostic test that uses catheters and X-ray images to detect coronary artery blockages and other abnormalities.

That’s when he discovered Westergaard had three blocked heart arteries, which would require coronary bypass surgery to improve blood flow to the heart.

Westergaard had open heart surgery at Silver Cross by Patroklos Pappas, M.D., a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon with over 25 years of experience in the Chicago area.

“Finding out I needed open-heart surgery was scary. It was important to me to have a good rapport with my surgeon. When I met Dr. Pappas, I felt he had the skills and bedside manner that would give me the best outcome,” she said.

“The nursing staff at Silver Cross Hospital were very reassuring and provided the encouragement I needed to get through this surgery. They would address all of my questions and educated me on reasonable expectations after surgery,” the grandmother of three recalls.

Life after Open-Heart Surgery – A New Journey

Today, Westergaard is regaining her strength in the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program.  Guided by experienced nurses and exercise physiologists, she wears a heart monitor during exercise to gauge progress and to ensure her heart is handling the workload properly.

“Cardiac rehabilitation has been so educational. I’m learning how to exercise properly and make the necessary lifestyle changes I need to keep myself healthy. I’ve quit smoking, and I’m learning how to read food labels and cook healthier. My husband and I are trying to make these changes together. Our next goal is exercising together and using the stationary bicycle in our home regularly,” said Westergaard.

With a family history of heart disease and high blood pressure, Westergaard knows she needs to make these lifestyle changes permanent. “The cardiac staff at Silver Cross have shown me what is possible with just a few lifestyle changes and have me excited for the future. My husband is retiring from work soon, and I am looking forward to traveling with him. I’ve got young grandchildren that I love spending time with – I don’t want anything to slow me down. I feel like I am on a new journey!” she added.

Check Your Heart for $49

Silver Cross Hospital offers Heart Scan which looks for calcification in the coronary arteries, the earliest indicator of heart disease. Price is $49 for the Heart Scan.

Calcium artery scoring is a quick, painless exam that uses high-speed CT scanning to measure calcium deposits in your heart. It's ideal for men over age 45 and women over age 55 who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of premature coronary artery disease.

For more information, visit silvercross.org/heart.

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.