Surviving heart surgery complication with healthy attitude


Diane Thaler

By Ed Karvoski Jr.
Contributing Writer

No one was more surprised than Diane Thaler of Stoughton when she suffered a massive heart attack. She had no heart disease risk factors, so some people might speculate that its occurrence was due to the ill-fated date: Friday, Dec. 13, 2013.

“Everybody was totally shocked because I ate well, exercised, wasn’t overweight, wasn’t diabetic and didn’t have high blood pressure,” said Thaler, now age 68. “It was quite a surprise to everyone – most of all, to me.”

While February is American Heart Month, Thaler welcomes opportunities year-round to share her experience including an American Heart Association (AHA) fundraiser in Boston this past October. Although the surgery had a complication, she’s now feeling well and wants to help spread a positive message.

“It’s important for people to see survivors,” she said. “I also want people to be aware of how the AHA is continuing their research with the resources it has.”

It was in the middle of the night that a severe pain awakened Thaler. Her husband immediately called 911 and paramedics rushed her to the nearest hospital, Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. After a series of tests, she was transported to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton for surgery.

“A team was waiting for me at St. Elizabeth’s,” Thaler relayed. “A surgeon told my husband that my chances were not very good and that most people that have this type of heart attack don’t even wake up; they just die in their sleep. It was touch-and-go for about 48 hours. The nurses, doctors and aides were wonderful. I couldn’t have gotten better care anywhere else – as good probably, but not better.”

For five weeks Thaler remained in the intensive care unit where the staff tried to stabilize her typically low blood pressure. Next, she was transferred to the cardiac floor for three weeks. There, she began basic physical therapy with seated leg and arm lifts.

She was discharged from St. Elizabeth’s and admitted into Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care Cambridge for two months. That facility was chosen because its nursing staff could support both her rehabilitation and intravenous heart medication. Again, Thaler was satisfied with the care she received.

“I had the best physical therapist,” she declared. “I told her to work me like she’d never worked a patient before. I was determined to get home as quickly as possible.”

Thaler needed additional medical care. A balloon pump had been inserted into one of her legs for the heart surgery to help circulation. However, blood clots broke off and migrated to her feet. The compromised circulation led to dry gangrene.

“It wasn’t pretty, “she acknowledged.  “Tissue died and my feet turned black. I couldn’t move them at all.”

The vascular surgeon who heads the department told her that some degree of amputation was necessary. She sought two other opinions and got the same response. Within a four-month period, she underwent amputations of both legs from about the mid-calves. Now, she has prosthetic legs.

“It’s the best of a bad situation,” she shared. “I’m walking, driving and went back to work.”

Thaler works as a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker in Canton. She’s also a professional tutor for students who need help with individual subjects and standardized test preparation.

Meanwhile, she periodically meets with her cardiologist. She’s also seeking more opportunities to publicly share her experience with others.

“Whether you’re looking at me as a heart disease survivor or a bilateral amputee, there is a life after a catastrophic event,” she said. “My life has obviously changed, but it didn’t end. You have to dig down, find that strength and be determined that it’s not going to be the end of your life.”

Thaler is aware that some people might be discouraged to learn she suffered a heart attack after living what is generally considered a heart-healthy lifestyle.

“There are the cynics that will say, ‘She was in good shape and still had a heart attack, so what’s the point?’” she noted. “The point is that my heart surgeon told my husband that I would not have survived if I had not been staying fit.”

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