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Preventative care checkup helps save Fishers woman's life

Cathy Lockhart returned to her doctor's office after several years and the checkup identified a potentially fatal heart condition.

FISHERS, Ind. — When COVID-19 hit, millions of Americans put off annual checkups. 

It's care that's often critical in identifying conditions before they become critical. For one Fishers woman, that trip back to the doctor earlier this year helped save her life. 

"Halfway to the finish line," said Cathy Lockhart at her cardiac rehab appointment in Fishers. "The gals here make it fun!" 

Inside IU Health's Saxony Hospital, Lockhart gets to work. Her time spent at cardiac rehab now just a regular part of her routine as she puts her health first.

"We only have one ticker, we've got to take care of it," she said. 

But it was not always a top priority. Before this June, she hadn't had a physical since 2019, as the pandemic kept her and millions of Americans out of those health care routines.

"I just put my health care on the back burner which wasn't a good idea," she said. 

A study out of Harvard found 1 in 5 in the United States put off primary care due to COVID-19. When it struck in 2020, those numbers were even higher, according to the CDC.

Then, something else entirely brought Lockhart into her doctor's office over the summer.

"On May 1, my husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary and he unexpectedly passed away on May 12," Cathy said. "So I went to the doctor on June 8 when I realized I was battling insomnia and depression." 

Credit: Cathy Lockhart
Cathy Lockhart's husband died less than two weeks after their 40th wedding anniversary.

After grief counseling and a prescription for an antidepressant, her physician assistant Kelsey Miller began Lockhart's heart and lung checkup.

"She took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and slowly turned around and our eyes were locked on and she said, 'Cathy you have a loud heart murmur.' So my first reaction was, 'Oh, not me,'" Cathy said. "'You'd better listen again.' But I decided I'd better listen to her."

"A traditional heartbeat, they always teach us, is that traditional lub-dub. A murmur can sound like a swoosh sometimes," said Kelsey Miller, a certified physician assistant in family medicine at IU Health. 

Miller said it's those annual physicals and routine exams that let them check on smaller concerns and identify problems early on - before they become critical.

"Every patient deserves that heart and lung exam and that's the reason why, because we need to be able to catch these things and make sure we're not overlooking something that could drastically impact their health," Miller said.

Credit: Cathy Lockhart
Cathy Lockhart gives a thumbs-up during a recent hospital visit.

For Lockhart, that check-up was lifesaving.

"It might have been there before, but I had no symptoms, nothing. I had no shortness of breath, no swelling or puffiness, nothing like that. And my first symptom could have been fatal," she said. 

But thanks to that checkup, she was able to get in for surgery, repairing her heart's leaky valve. And now, she's making her way slowly down the road to recovery.

"Well I haven't always been this bright and sunny. I've had those days where it was really, really tough," she said. But, Lockhart said, with her friends, family and especially, her faith, she's found the strength to keep pushing forward one step at a time. And with it, getting her heart and her health back on track.

"I'm very lucky that everything's gone the way it has," she said. 

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