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The Music of Life



Cindy Arnhold knew something was wrong. A clarinet player in the Red River Valley Veterans Concert Band, she couldn’t hold the long notes anymore. She couldn’t reach the end of a musical phrase without taking a breath. Even taking the stairs at the American Legion Hall in Fargo had become difficult.

The symptoms reached their peak on a family vacation in Las Vegas in late November 2007.

“I just figured I was out of shape,” says the 55-year-old, describing her shortness of breath, chest pressure and tiredness. By the end of the vacation, she knew it was more.

Quick action

The day she returned home she saw Dr. Craig Kouba, cardiologist at Sanford Heart Center in Fargo. An exam and tests pointed to the need for major heart surgery.

It wouldn’t be Cindy’s first. At age 19, she received a mechanical heart valve because of severe damage caused by childhood rheumatic fever. After more than 30 years, Cindy's early-generation valve needed to be replaced with a modern valve designed to last a lifetime.

That same day, Cindy met with Dr. Roxanne Newman, Sanford cardiovascular surgeon.

“Right away I knew she was the right person to fix my heart,” says Cindy. “Dr. Kouba recommended her, plus she was very dynamic and so positive.”

Statistics support the optimism. In the past decade, Dr. Newman has performed well over 1,000 heart valve procedures, including minimally invasive mitral valve repairs. In addition Sanford’s team has adopted advanced technology that improves the success and safety of valve procedures for patients of all ages.

“Our expectation is success,” says Dr. Newman. “We don’t take patients into the operating room unless we plan and expect to improve the quality and the duration of their lives. That’s a given.”

Cindy’s surgery was scheduled for Dec . 12.

A moment of panic

Cindy vividly remembers entering the OR -- the bright lights, the efficiency of the team as they prepared and the caring ways of her anesthesiologist.

“I was fearful and he knew it,” she says. “He stayed at my side, calming me down and talking me off the ledge. I’ll never forget that.”

The surgery was extensive and successful. Healing continued in the cardiac intensive care unit, where close monitoring catches problems early. Cindy’s heart showed rhythm lapses.

“Dr. Newman came in on a Sunday morning and put in a pacemaker,” says Cindy. “She was there for me all the way.”

Close follow-up

In the years since her surgery, Cindy's worked hard to keep her heart healthy and it’s paid off. Retired and living in the Minnesota lakes area with her husband, Lon, she enjoys travel, time with family and staying active.

Her biggest heart challenge? The increased risk for blood clots due to the mechanical valve. That’s why she works closely with the Heart Center’s anti-coagulation clinic, starting at Sanford Clinic Detroit Lakes.

“It’s convenient to stop in at the local clinic and get my blood tested -- sometimes as often as every three days,” she says. “Results go to the anti-coagulation clinic and right away they let me know my medication adjustments. They know exactly what they’re doing.” The Heart Center has two fulltime pharmacists devoted solely to anti-coagulation therapy.

Cindy exercises daily, eats nutritiously and stays positive. “We all have our crabby days, but you get more out of life when you choose to be happy,” she says. “I feel great!”

Dr. Newman applauds her dedication. “Patients like Cindy who keep tight control over their coagulation levels and take care of their health do superbly well,” she says.

Faces of courage

The Veterans Band frequently performs at nursing homes. As part of their concert, they play the official theme for each of the five military branches. When veterans in the audience hear their song, they stand and salute.

“It’s very moving to see,” says Cindy, recalling a scene from years ago at a Pelican Rapids, Minn., nursing home. A 90-year-old veteran confined to a wheelchair heard his song and struggled to stand. Two nursing assistants rushed to his side.

“By the time he was on his feet and saluting, the band was in tears,” says Cindy.

The skill of a surgeon's hand ... the commitment of a patient ... the honor of an old soldier. Each gives their all when needed, and each can touch the heart.

Posted Date: April 2011

The Music of Life

Breathless from a flight of stairs, Cindy Arnhold figured she was out of shape. The problem proved far more serious. Who could fix her ailing heart? What could get her back to the life she loved?