Published in Women's Lifestyle Magazine
When Ashley Heitzman, 19, felt light-headed in her dormitory shower at Aquinas College, she nearly fainted. She called out to her roommates for help, and they assisted her to the couch. Heitzman’s friends called campus safety patrol to be safe. They told Heitzman to drink some water, as she was no doubt dehydrated on that warm day.
Although it was probably nothing, Heitzman made a call the next day to the campus doctor to check on what had caused her nearly fainting the day before. A certified physician assistant was on call that day at the Aquinas health center. She did an examination on the sophomore and detected a heart murmur.
“I was confused,” recalled Heitzman. “How could there be something wrong with my heart? I felt fine!”
When Heitzman underwent an electrocardiogram (EKG) later at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, however, she was diagnosed with atrial septal defect, a congenital heart defect commonly known as a hole in the heart. An opening in the dividing wall between the upper filling chambers of the heart, or atria, had caused Heitzman’s weakness.
“At 33 millimeters, the doctors told me it was among the largest such holes that they’d ever seen,” said Heitzman.
Dr. Joseph Vettukattil, an interventional cardiologist, and Dr. Marcus Haw, a congenital heart surgeon, immediately scheduled Heitzman for surgery at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. The first surgery didn’t go as well as hoped, as the hole in Heitzman’s heart proved too large to close without open-heart surgery. A week after her first surgery, Heitzman was back in the operating room.
“Dr. Vettukattil was so nice,” said Heitzman. “He held my hand and asked me ...