WATERFORD, N.Y. — After nearly collapsing at a heart association Heart Walk in 2018, a Waterford woman returned to the event earlier this month to not only complete the walk but run the 5K.
The turnaround is a testament to her determination, good friends, good medicine, and good fortune.
Misty Jones competed in track in high school in Oregon and continued running to stay in shape and clear her mind while an undergraduate and graduate student. But with a career and three teenagers at home, she admits she’d gained weight since college and was out of shape when she agreed to walk in the 2018 Capital Region Heart Association Heart Walk at the University at Albany.
During the walk, Jones began to feel dizzy and told the friends who were with her she was going to sit down and rest and then go home. The friends, including Clifton Park resident Kathleen Pingelski, wouldn’t hear of it and immediately sought help. The action most likely saved Jones’ life and put her on the path that allowed her to run in this year’s 5K run.
“At the 2018 walk I thought everything was all right, but then I got lightheaded and once I sat down I found I couldn’t get back up,” Jones said last week.
Pingelski knew immediately something was wrong and sought help while another friend called emergency services. Within moments Dr. Mandeep Sidhu, a cardiologist with Albany Med., who was walking in the event with his children, ran over and immediately began making a physical assessment.
Jones, 48, is a physical therapist and because she never lost consciousness knew what was happening to her wasn’t good. She was taken by ambulance to St. Peters Hospital.
“I didn’t know that I had a heart problem but at St. Peter’s I found I had a bunch of things going on that I did not know about,” she said. “After doing some tests the first thing they found was I had some pulmonary emboli which is very unusual because I don’t have the risk factors for that and 33 percent of the time that’s fatal. That was very scary.”
After being given blood thinners she spent the night in the hospital’s cardiac unit.
“I was overwhelmed and at 47 I thought 'wow, when I go into the cardiac unit everyone there will be old,”' she said. “In fact, my roommate was younger than me and was having similar symptoms. That was an eye-opener; that women are having heart issues they don’t know about.”
Six weeks later while at work at Albany Memorial Hospital Jones began to feel the same lightheadedness again and told a fellow employee who happened to be a cardiac nurse.
“These two events happened and these two incredible women happened to be there at the time, so I am incredibly lucky,” Jones said. “I hadn’t planned to walk with Kathleen [Pingelski], it just happened. And what are the chances of having a cardiac specialist like Dr. Sidhu a few yards away. I was very, very lucky. I wouldn’t have ever dreamed that was going on.”
After the hospital called the code for assistance and got Jones into the emergency room, she was found to have SVT, Supraventricular tachycardia, an abnormally rapid heart rhythm.
“It turns out I had probably had this condition, which is extra circuits in your heart, since birth,” Jones said. “You can fix it with medication, but it will continue to get worse, so I had an ablation where they went up to the heart and burned the extra circuits to prevent it from happening again.”
Jones said there were red flags of her condition in the past, but she’d missed them. Whenever she tried to work out, she felt horrible. She was told it was because she was out of shape. When she walked up four flights of stairs at the hospital, she got so out of breath she couldn’t speak when she reached the top of the stairs.
“I knew something was wrong but didn’t pursue it further with other medical professionals,” she said. “I kept thinking I’m older now but it was much more serious. I was just very lucky.”
To get back in shape after having the ablation Jones applied to the American Heart Association’s BetterU Challenge Program, a selective program that includes a 12-week membership with a trainer and wellness workshops from the YMCA, a nutrition workshop by Market 32 (Price Chopper), health screenings, and weekly workouts with emotional support.
In January, Jones was selected to be one of 12 area participants in the 2019 program from an application pool of 178 others.
“There were all ethnicities, all ages, all different issues. The youngest was 20 and the oldest was a grandmother,” Jones said. “For me it was huge.”
After completing the program, she was able to run the 2019 Heart Association’s 5K race and complete the walk.
The friend who insisted something was wrong at the Heart Walk, Pingelski, finds it amazing that one year later Jones was able to run the race as well as finish her 2018 walk.
“She wanted to let it pass; thought it was all too much, but something she said led me to believe it was something with her heart,” Pingelski said. “One of the Heart Association’s mottos is that it takes one of us to say you’re not going to ignore this; you’re going to get it checked out and that’s what I did. I’m glad I used the line; it was serious. My words to her were, not on my watch.”
Jones is glad Pingelski and the others, including Dr. Sidhu, were persistent too. At this year’s event Jones, Pingelski and Sidhu met at the spot where Jones sat down during the 2018 walk.
“I was very lucky on two occasions,” Jones said. “I’m lucky Kathleen was persistent. Not everyone can say their best friend saved their life.”