Mary Shofner at the Grand Canyon

Last month, Mary Shofner and her husband, Steve, rode mules down into the Grand Canyon where they camped for the night before riding out the next day. On a previous trip, the couple hiked their way down into the canyon and then rafted 93 miles out.

They also have gone white water rafting and zip lining through the Royal Gorge. They have gone snorkeling in Cancun and participated in a 500-mile bicycle ride across Iowa.

Shofner, who had heart attacks at ages 55 and 60, plans to continue that active lifestyle for years to come, and she credits the cardiology department at Mercy Hospital Washington for making it possible.

“I used to think people who had heart attacks were fragile,” said Shofner, 64, Lonedell.

“When I was in the hospital after my first heart attack, I was thinking about all of the things I wouldn’t be able to do anymore. Now I think about all I can do and why I can do it — because of Mercy,” she remarked. “It’s because of the doctors and the services we have right here in town.”

Shofner, who has worked in human resources at WEG for more than 25 years, makes a point of driving new recruits to the company past the hospital to tell them about the world-class care it offers.

Dr. John Mohart, a cardiologist with Mercy Hospital Washington, said that is a reputation they take seriously and one of the reasons behind the Vision for Mercy Cardiology — Bridging the Gap campaign that has been under way for the last couple of years.

The $2.1 million campaign, which has already raised $1.8 million, will allow the hospital to add equipment and make renovations to better care for cardiac patients and meet future demands.

“With cardiovascular patients, time is of the essence,” said Dr. Mohart. “We say time is muscle, and a lot of times, you can’t wait. You can’t say, I’ll do that next week or I’ll get transferred. You need that service right now.”

Some 2,500 patients come through Mercy Medical Building South each day, and at least half of them are receiving some type of cardiac care.

“In response to this need, Mercy Washington has expanded its cardiovascular services over the last five years to include a second cardiac catheterization lab, a new and larger cardiopulmonary rehabilitation center and a full spectrum of cardiovascular services,” said Dr. Mohart.

“Previously, patients would have to travel into St. Louis to receive implants, stents and other procedures. Patients now can receive care and recover close to home due to Mercy’s commitment to its patients and community.”

In addition to that, funds raised from the Vision for Mercy Cardiology campaign have made it possible for Mercy to add new equipment, like imaging software that allows doctors to diagnose heart disease even earlier. So asymptomatic people who feel good but are at high risk for heart disease — either because of family history or health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure — can help prevent heart attacks from happening.

That’s one of the additions to cardiac care here that Dr. Mohart is most excited about.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women,” he said, “so preventing heart disease before it happens is very exciting.”

Heart disease can lead to artery blockage, which can lead to a heart attack, and how quickly that artery is opened up and cleared determines the amount of damage to the muscle and impact on a person’s life.

“If you can’t open that up in 90 minutes with a catheter, you have a major heart attack and either die or have damage for life, a weak heart for life, which would limit your quality of life,” said Dr. Mohart. “Some people are bed bound as a result.”

‘They Took Care of Me Right Here in Washington’

Shofner had that image in her mind after she suffered her first heart attack in June 2009.

It was a Sunday morning, and they had been working on their farm in Lonedell when Mary realized something wasn’t right.

“We had been delivering hay to a horse customer. It was around 8 o’clock in the morning, and it wasn’t even hot,” she said. “And I’m up in the loft, dragging bales over to get them out of the way so he can throw hay up. He was talking to this horse owner, and I sat down a bale of hay, and he looks over at me, and says, ‘You’re not OK, are you?’

“I felt really claustrophobic, and I had broken out in a sweat,” she recalled. “I know I had turned really pale and white, and I felt some pressure on my chest, but not a lot.”

Her husband helped her get down from the loft and before she got to their truck, she started throwing up. After they were on the road for a little while, she thought she was feeling well enough that she didn’t need to go to the hospital. It happened to be her husband’s birthday, and they were expecting company later for a party.

“We had a bit of an argument, and he said, ‘No, I think you need to get checked out,’ so he dropped me off at the emergency room, went to park the vehicle, and when he came in, I was in full cardiac arrest. It was that fast,” said Shofner.

The ER staff at Mercy Hospital Washington administered a “clot-busting” drug and was able to get Shofner stabilized for an air ambulance ride to Mercy St. Louis, where her care continued with an immediate cardiac catheterization to clear the artery.

The doctor who was performing the procedure asked Shofner if she was a smoker or experienced a lot of stress. When she said, “No,” she realized he was asking because he couldn’t find any blockage.

“I think that clot buster really did the job,” said Shofner. “It cleared the blockage.”

Two days later, she was released from the hospital, and by Friday she was back at work. She completed the necessary cardiac rehab and followed that up with her own regular workouts at the YMCA.

Fast forward five years. Shofner had recovered from that first heart attack, escaping with minimal damage to her heart. She felt wonderful — no lingering effects of the heart attack and her life was back to normal.

Then she woke up at 2 a.m. one morning with that same clammy, claustrophobic feeling she’d had in the barn loft five years earlier. The only difference was, now she knew exactly what was happening.

“I just said, ‘Steve, it’s happening again. We have to go now!’ I went to the car in my nightgown and flip flops. He called the police and said, ‘Please notify St. Clair ambulance that we are on our way. Have them ready. My wife’s having a heart attack.”

The ER staff at Mercy Hospital Washington was waiting for Shofner when she arrived with all of the information they needed.

“Dr. Seeck did this fabulous cardiac cath through my wrist, saw I had two blockages. He put in two stents and did one angioplasty, and they took care of me right here in Washington. No transferring me into St. Louis,” said Shofner, noting back in 2009, her air ambulance helicopter ride had cost $17,000.

The difference was improvements that Mercy Washington had done over the years. Shofner said she had read about them in the newspaper, but didn’t appreciate what that really meant for patient care until she experienced it for herself.

“It was amazing!” she remarked. “They are able to do all of the tests I needed here. They learned that my ejection fraction was at a rate that probably needed a defibrillator, so I now have a defibrillator and a pacemaker. They installed them here and did everything here.”

Shofner also has been enrolled in the Mercy Virtual program, that provides her with equipment needed to measure her blood oxygen level, blood pressure and weight. Every day she inputs her numbers into a computer that submits the information to Mercy, where staff monitor those numbers to see if her daily medication needs any adjusting.

“I take my blood pressure in the morning, and based on the numbers, I know what medicines to take,” she said. “I keep a couple of meds at home, and I’m not to take them unless they tell me to.”

Looking back over the last nine years and knowing how her life could have changed as a result of those two heart attacks, Shofner feels both gratitude and pride for Mercy Hospital Washington.

“I am in awe of how Mercy has grown and what they do,” she said. “I have such good quality of life. There’s nothing that I can’t do. Now my motto is I’m going to live forever.”

More Likely to Have a Heart Attack Than Cancer

Looking ahead to the next five to 10 years, Mercy Washington expects the need for cardiac services in the Four Rivers region to increase by 10 percent, and they are expanding now in order to be ready, said Dr. Mohart.

“Readiness for the future is imperative,” a Vision for Mercy Cardiology campaign brochure reads. “Mercy’s ongoing investment in capital needs, together with private donations from the community will allow Mercy to keep abreast of ever-changing technological advances and continue to provide excellent quality care to everyone in our community.”

Dr. Mohart noted that the number of people with heart disease far eclipses other health conditions.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for both men and women, and if you add up the next seven top causes of death, they don’t even add up to the heart disease numbers,” he said.

The reality is that you are far more likely to have a heart attack than get cancer, Dr. Mohart stressed.

“Currently an average of 40 hospital patients per day receive cardiac testing in the hospital stress lab,” the brochure reads. “This area is mainly utilized for patients who’ve been admitted to the hospital, however, when demand is too high for capacity at the Mercy Medical Building South, providers perform tests at the hospital.

“Combined, more than 60 hospital and clinic patients are seen per day in an area that has not been built for such volume.”

Equipment that will be added to Mercy Washington through the Vision campaign includes:

• Three new echocardiograph and vascular units that provide 3-D images ($160,000 each);

• Two nuclear cameras to help decrease radiation exposure ($225,000 each);

• One fluoroscopy unit ($700,000);

• Three Venticon machines to diagnose blood clots in the lungs ($10,000 each); and

• Renovation of space to provide an expanded waiting area and rest room ($500,000).

Looking to Wrap Up Campaign

Mercy is looking to wrap up the Vision for Mercy Cardiology campaign this spring in order to get started on the expansion and additions.

Donations are welcome from the community.

No amount is too small. To make a donation, people can go to www.mercy.net/giving or call 636-239-8867 and ask for Rachel Covington, Mercy Health Foundation.

Donations also can be mailed to 901 E. Fifth St., Suite 210, Washington, MO 63090.