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Jean's Story: Mending a Failing Heart

Jean's Story: Mending a Failing Heart

Read more about Jean's journey back to health...

Sitting at the kitchen table one recent morning with her husband, Dave, Jean Richter happily declares, “We’re newlyweds.” She points to a framed photo of their 2014 wedding. “We had a beautiful love story and got married on a Boulder County farm,” she says, “I didn’t want to lose that.”

Last fall, Jean, 62, suddenly had to face the prospect of losing her loved ones: She was diagnosed with Heart Failure (HF), a chronic condition that occurs when the heart muscle is weakened and can’t pump strongly enough to meet the body’s needs. If not treated correctly, about half of people who develop heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.

An active retiree, Jean was an unlikely HF candidate: She kept busy with daily walks, regular gym workouts and babysitting 13 grandchildren. But late last year, she began feeling short of breath, which she thought might be due to asthma. Then her stomach began distending. Before she could get a recommended GI scope, her symptoms worsened. She was having trouble sleeping and retaining water in her lower extremities—so much that Dave remarked on it after returning from a weekend trip. First thing the next morning, he rushed her to the Foothills Hospital Emergency Department.

Doctors at Foothills quickly determined that Jean’s heart was racing—157 beats per minute rather than the normal rate of 60 to 100. But her struggling heart muscle was pumping less than half the needed volume of blood. Although no arteries were blocked, her heart was enlarged and one valve wasn’t shutting properly.

The heart failure specialist who 'made everything OK'

Blois WebresThe next morning, the hospital’s heart-failure specialist, Scott Blois, MD, came to Jean’s room to introduce himself. “I liked Dr. Blois right away,” she says in a voice full of affection. “He literally saved my life.”

Last year, Dr. Blois founded the Heart Failure Clinic at Boulder Heart, the full-service cardiology program at Boulder Community Health. He is board certified in advanced heart failure—a new specialty offered by only a handful of cardiologists in Colorado. That expertise in managing HF is yielding improved outcomes for many in our community, including Jean Richter.

After Jean returned home from the hospital, Dr. Blois devoted significant time to ensuring she was responding well to medications and offering guidance about how to navigate her new condition. Four months later, he ordered another echocardiogram. “He was so pleased with the results,” Jean says. Her heart function had gone from severely weakened to near normal—a huge improvement.

Feeling better every day

These days, Jean feels pretty ecstatic. “I almost feel back to normal. I’ve had consistent energy. We can go on walks. I can do housework. I feel really good.” Still, this journey has been far from easy—and the support she’s gotten at Boulder Heart has made all the difference.

“I don’t like going to the doctor’s office, but I love going there,” she says. “Dr. Blois is smart. He’s up to date on all the new medications. But even more, he takes time with you. He lets me hug him—and he hugs back.”

Jean has had other health challenges, but HF had the most devastating emotional impact. She jokes, “I felt like I was turning into a frail old lady counting out her pills.” She and Dave met with Dr. Blois to talk about the depression. “I told him I was scared and had anxiety about the future. He sat with me and listened, let me cry, and reassured me that it would get better.”

Most days, it is better—much better. Jean is back at the gym. The “newlyweds” even undertook an ambitious recent road trip: hiking and exploring in Montana. Everything went great, except for the unseasonably rainy weather. Back in the swing of life, it’s clear that Jean relishes the luxury of focusing once again on everyday “problems” like weather.

Boulder Heart has three full-service cardiology clinics conveniently located across Boulder County. To schedule an appointment, please call 303-442-2395.

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