LOCAL NEWS

Heart disease is on the rise for women during the pandemic

Feb 18, 2022, 7:31 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 4:41 pm

SANDY, Utah – Recent studies show more women are at risk for increased heart disease during the pandemic. It’s a sobering reminder this February, during National Heart Health Month. One Sandy woman is making her heart health a priority after battling a blood cancer that put her into heart failure.

After five years in and out of the hospital, 46-year-old Jessica Renfeldt is just happy to live somewhat of a normal life again. It all started in the fall of 2016.

“I just felt horrible, like I was really exhausted. I had really bad swelling in my legs and my abdomen. I got a bronchitis that I just couldn’t get over. When I laid down, I could hear crackling in my chest. I knew there was something wrong,” she described.

After struggling to walk around Hogle Zoo one day with her family, they determined Renfeldt was exhibiting several signs of heart failure.

“It was super scary,” she said.

After a bone marrow stem cell transplant and heart transplant, 46-year-old Jessica Renfeldt exercises five days a week to keep her new heart healthy and strong. She is in cardiac rehab and recently climbed the stairs at Intermountain Medical Center as part of her training. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Renfeldt

She went back to her primary care physician again and finally had a series of tests done including an EKG and echocardiogram.

“The technician that was doing it knew that there was something gravely wrong with my heart at that point,” she said. “Before I left the hospital that day, the cardiologist had me diagnosed with cardiac AL amyloidosis. I could barely breathe. It was… just hit to the gut.”

AL amyloidosis is an aggressive blood cancer that creates misfolded proteins in the blood which coagulate and attack major organs in the body. In this case, it damaged Renfeldt’s heart.

“So with a stiff heart, you can’t push as much blood flow through the heart as you need to actually operate your whole system,” she explained.

Jessica Renfeldt is the mother of three daughters. After five years in and out of the hospital, she feels so blessed to be alive and healthy to spend time with her family. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Renfeldt

After a month of chemotherapy, she had a full bone marrow stem cell transplant in December of 2016. She did an additional ten months of chemotherapy before her doctor said she was in hematologic remission. Though her immune system was sustained, her heart was still impaired and she had a stroke from the complications in January 2020. Her doctor told her she only had a couple years to left to live with her current heart.

She was placed on a heart transplant list and eventually admitted to the hospital on June 23, 2021 and waited 78 days before she finally got a new heart just five months ago on September 9, 2021.

Stacey Frampton, a nurse practitioner with the Intermountain Healthcare Heart Institute, says though Renfeldt’s situation is unique, a third of women will die from heart disease. She says it remains the leading cause of death for both men and women.

“People are struggling with heart problems all across the state, all across the country. Oftentimes, they don’t even realize that they have heart problems,” she said.

In 2021 Jessica Renfeldt spent 123 days in the hospital between waiting for and receiving a heart transplant among other complications. She said the day she woke up after getting her new heart, her daughters surrounded her in bed playing their favorite music. She knew it was the start of a new life. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Renfeldt

Though many think of heart disease as a male problem, she says it is very much a female problem too. Frampton says women also have blockages in the arties of their heart that lead to further complications.

The number of women with hypertension alone is also on the rise.

“We call it the silent killer, because most people don’t know they have it unless they’re checking,” Frampton said.

More than half of people have high blood pressure by their 50s and 60s according to Frampton.

In 2021 Jessica Renfeldt spent 123 days in the hospital between waiting for and receiving a heart transplant among other complications. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Renfeldt

The good news is Frampton says certain steps can lower someone’s risk of heart disease like not smoking, keeping your blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol in check, and exercising. She also says medication is an important way to control blood pressure.

“About a third of us don’t do really much activity at all. Even just walking around the block can make a big difference,” she said. “If you have a dog, take your dog for a walk around the block… It doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise.”

Renfeldt works out five times a week including both resistance and cardio training, and eats healthy.

“I do my best to kind of limit red meat to maybe once or twice a week. I still am supposed to monitor my salt intake, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy oils like avocado [and] olive,” she said.

Frampton says reducing stress is also key to heart health, especially during the pandemic.

“We’re not interacting with people as much in ways that bring us good things, that bring us happiness,” she said. “We’re kind of all locked down, maybe eating more packaged foods, maybe ordering in as opposed to getting out and walking and having normal interaction.”

“Find your outlet. Find something that makes you feel good, that makes you happy – whether that’s going for a hike, or talking to your family members,” Frampton encouraged.

“We do that through a lot of laughter in our house,” Renfeldt said. “[We] watch funny movies, listen to music, dance, play, have fun as much as possible. I like to read a lot and just make sure I’m taking the downtime to be present and not get wound up in the daily stresses of life, which isn’t always easy.”

 

Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or journaling are also helpful strategies, Frampton said.

“Something that’s really helped as far as the pandemic goes, is I keep in good touch with several friends … and just checking in and saying, ‘Hey, you know, how are you doing right now?,’” Renfeldt said.

Today, Renfeld is determined to care for her new heart and enjoy life with her three daughters.

“Before my feet hit the floor every morning, I think of how grateful I am for… oh, goodness, just being here,” she said. “[I’m] so grateful to my donor. I realize that’s the greatest gift anybody could receive and I would hope that I am living a life that that person would be proud of.”

She encourages other women to not delay seeking care if they think something is wrong.

“Don’t leave the office until you feel heard, because I think sometimes we just… sweep it under the rug and think that maybe we are the crazy ones,” she said.

Jessica Renfeldt has made an effort to spend five days a week exercising since she received her new heart last October. In addition to strength and cardio training, Renfeldt tries to get outside as much as possible to fly fish and hike. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Renfeldt

Though women often wear many hats as caregivers for their family in addition to work and other responsibilities, Frampton says it’s crucial for women to put their needs first.

“You got to take care of yourself or you can’t take care of anybody,” she said.

She encourages people to familiarize themselves with their family history since some people are born with genes that make them prone to heart disease. Frampton says it’s important for people to check their blood pressure regularly and to partner with a medical provider to help them live a heart healthy lifestyle.

“’Hey, I’m worried about my cardiovascular risk factors. Tell me what I can do to decrease my risk. Do I have cholesterol? Is my blood sugar, maybe borderline?’” she suggests asking a physician.

“If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, don’t beat yourself up about it, but make a plan to figure out how you’re going to kick it because no amount of smoking is safe,” Frampton said.

She says weight is also an important factor in heart health.

“Unfortunately, 60 to 80 percent of women are overweight and that takes us toll,” Frampton said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

man with breathing tubes wears a white hat...

Tamara Vaifanua

Family, friends celebrate Kearns man’s 100th birthday

A Kearns man celebrated his 100th birthday.

10 minutes ago

Follow @KSL5TVLike us on Facebook...

Tamara Vaifanua

Utah high school basketball player reaches milestone: 1,000 rebounds in single season

A Utah high school basketball player grabbed a huge career milestone – 1,000 rebounds in a single season; and she’s not stopping there.

50 minutes ago

(KSL TV)...

Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera

5 things to know about KSL’s legal fight for transparency

How much should Utahns get to know about how elected officials spend their time on the clock? The question is at the center of a legal fight taking KSL to court Monday.

6 hours ago

The Utah Avalanche Center opened a new beacon training park at Pinebrook Sunday, the closest park t...

Shelby Lofton

Utah Avalanche Center opens new rescue skills training park close to Salt Lake City

The Utah Avalanche Center opened a new beacon training park at Pinebrook on Sunday, the closest park to Salt Lake City.

13 hours ago

Thousands of Filipino’s filled the stands at a historic and sacred Catholic University to attend ...

Dan Rascon

Thousands attend interfaith concert in Manila with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square

Thousands of people from the Philippines filled the stands at a historic and sacred Catholic University to attend an interfaith concert with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

13 hours ago

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, left, and President Joe Biden toast before Biden speaks to members of the Na...

Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

Biden and Utah’s governor call for less bitterness and more bipartisanship

President Joe Biden and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox disagree on many issues but they were united Saturday in calling for less bitterness in politics and more bipartisanship.

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Heart disease is on the rise for women during the pandemic