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Heart Screening ‘Saved My Life’ Says Survivor

Athens, Ga. (Feb. 10, 2020) – Forty-one-year-old Sonia Janis takes her health seriously. She works out routinely, follows a healthy diet and stays up-to-date on her annual exams and screenings. So when her brother was diagnosed with heart disease, Janis decided she should be screened for it as well, something that she now says helped “save her life.”

“My brother was diagnosed with an inherited form of heart disease, and his doctor at the time recommended that all of his siblings get tested as well to ensure we didn’t have the same condition,” Janis said.

She quickly made an appointment with a local cardiologist at Piedmont Heart Institute in Athens to see if she shared this condition with her brother. “It turned out that I didn’t have the same condition, but I had something similar,” Janis said.

It was at that time that Janis was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, and Janis’s screening results showed that she not only had a serious heart condition, but also that her condition was in a serious state.

“The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, and although it’s tough, sometimes the walls of the aorta can weaken and bulge, causing an aortic aneurysm,” said Ben Holland, M.D., interventional cardiologist at Piedmont Heart in Athens. “Our team found the aortic aneurysm in Sonia’s heart was dilated, which meant there was a potential chance of it dissecting or bursting, which can be very dangerous.”

Because Janis’s aneurysm was relatively small, the risk of surgery was higher than the risk of monitoring the aneurysm’s size. As months passed, Janis continued to work with her cardiologist to ensure things hadn’t worsened. Then one night, the worst-case scenario occurred.

“I had a horrible headache, my jaw was locking up and my heart was beating so fast,” Janis said. Worried her aneurysm had become too dilated too quickly, she went to Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s emergency room.

Once she arrived, Janis learned the wall of her aorta was torn, also known as an aortic dissection, a condition that can be fatal if not repaired quickly. Thankfully, she’d made it to the hospital in time and doctors were able to replace her aortic valve with a new, mechanical valve in her heart and replace the damaged portion of her aorta. The surgery was a success.

“There was a chance that I wouldn’t have survived if I hadn’t come to the hospital when I did,” Janis said. According to Janis, having the heightened awareness of her heart condition and understanding its risks made her take action – knowledge she had thanks to a heart screening. 

“If you have a history of heart disease in your family, it is important to have a screening or a stress test done,” said Catherine Marti, cardiologist and heart failure specialist at Piedmont Heart in Athens.  “If we can catch a problem early, we can treat it.”

Piedmont Athens Regional now offers a women’s heart screening program to help improve early detection and, in some cases, stop heart disease before it’s too late.

“Heart disease is oftentimes thought of as a man’s disease, but that’s actually not the case at all,” Dr. Marti said. “Almost as many women as men die of heart disease each year. Thankfully, this new screening can help prevent that, giving women in our community a better chance to start taking action against heart disease and the risk factors associated with it.”

Piedmont Heart’s women’s heart screening is $99 regardless of insurance and is designed for all women. It does not require a referral from a physician.

Even women who do not have a pre-existing heart issue are eligible for the screening, which includes a physical exam, lab work and complete health history. Participants also receive a comprehensive heart health report they can take home with detailed recommendations and next steps.

“That’s a small price to pay for big peace of mind,” Dr. Marti said. “Sonia’s story is an excellent example of what a huge difference these screenings can make.”

To learn more or to sign up to take the women’s heart screening at Piedmont Heart Institute in Athens, visit piedmont.org/womensheart.

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