Jim and Hazel Gillette of Paola (pictured above) have a busier social life than couples 50 years younger than them. Most evenings you can find them dancing for two to three hours at a time. They have been square dancing together since 1969, and in the past few years started round dancing—a form of social ballroom dancing where steps are choreographed and announced by a caller, or “cuer.”
At 82, Jim is much more active and fit than others his age; something that’s even more remarkable considering he has been living with heart failure since 2010.
Instead of letting his condition slow him down, Jim and Hazel used the health scare as incentive to make some major lifestyle changes.
At the time of his diagnosis, Jim’s ejection fraction, a measurement of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction of the heart, was around 15 percent. A healthy heart’s ejection fraction is usually between 50 and 70 percent. His weakened heart left him breathless and tired. Dr. Ravi Yarlagadda, an electrophysiologist with Olathe Health Cardiology Services, implanted a pacemaker in Jim’s heart to encourage it to pump more efficiently.
The surgery at Olathe Medical Center (OMC) went well, and Jim’s ejection fraction improved somewhat. But surgery was just one important piece of his treatment. Jim’s care team also prescribed a low-sodium diet and exercise to help his heart work as efficiently as possible.
“I couldn’t have made those changes without Hazel’s dedication,” said Jim. “We had to make all our meals at home, no eating out. Hazel was the one figuring out low-sodium meal ideas, reading every label at the grocery store and trying to find foods that were compatible with what we wanted to eat.”
Hazel says they work together to plan meals. “It’s getting easier, as it seems that there are many more low-sodium products available in grocery stores than when we first started,” said Hazel.
One of the resources Jim and Hazel relied on in the early days was OMC’s Happy Heart Hour, a local support group that meets quarterly at the hospital to help patients living with heart failure. Guest speakers include clinicians such as dietitians, exercise physiologists or pharmacists, and patients and their families also connect as resources for each other to live heart-healthy lifestyles.
“It takes a team approach to help patients make these types of lifestyle changes,” said Shelley Gurley, DNP, APRN, a nurse practitioner at Olathe Health Cardiology Services. “The Gillettes still attend Happy Heart Hour, and they are such great examples to new heart failure families. They’ve been successful with their lifestyle changes, and it gives others hope.”
Jim and Hazel are happy to share secrets of their success with others.
“If a food is packaged and not fresh or doesn’t have a nutrition label on it, we don’t buy it,” Jim said. “It also helps to leave the meal with a good attitude, so we try to finish with something that tastes good like a low-sodium cookie or fruit cup.”
“Sharing our story is an affirmation that what we did worked. Watching what we eat and dancing every day has really been good for our hearts and minds,” Jim said.