The odds were not in her favor the day Barbara Pamplin suffered an aortic dissection, and they certainly weren’t tilted her way over the following 50 days when her heart stopped three times.
An aortic dissection is when the inner lining of the main artery coming from the heart — the aorta — ruptures. It’s an emergency that kills 20 percent of people who experience it before they reach a hospital, but Pamplin was rushed to the hospital on Oct. 19, 2017, and after a dangerous, albeit successful surgery, it wasn’t long before another health crisis struck.
“I survived it and I was in the hospital, I had been in the hospital for about three weeks and was about to get discharged when my heart stopped suddenly and I collapsed in the bathroom,” she said.
Medical staff at Overlake Medical Center revived her and she went into surgery on Nov. 8, 2017, to removed a bloodclot. On Nov. 16, 2017, her heart stopped again and she required a half hour of manual CPR before her heart restarted. Then, again, on Nov. 26 she suffered another heart attack.
“My heart stopped and it took quite a while for them to bring me back, but I came back and I had a third open heart surgery,” Pamplin said. “…I kept recovering and they couldn’t explain what was happening or how I kept recovering.”
All told, Pamplin was in intensive care for 50 days before she was released on Dec. 8, 2017. Since then she’s been focusing on healing, but the scar from her surgeries is still there and will be for the rest of her life. Pamplin joined what she called the “zipper club,” or those who bear surgery scars. But instead of just surviving, Pamplin decided to use her experience to try and help others through education. As part of that process, she hopes to get a large peacock butterfly tattoo over the scars.
“It’s been a transformation for me, so I’m going to transform this open heart surgery scar to a butterfly,” she said. “I just want to use this as a change for my life, but also to inform other people of the true risks of heart disease and high blood pressure.”
Palmplin is an African American woman in her mid-40s, and said since her surgeries she has been focusing on doing outreach, specifically to other black women. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease kills about 50,000 African American women every year, and nearly half of all black women over 20 years old have heart diseases. On top of that, Pamplin said many black women don’t know high blood pressure is something they need to monitor.
“Most of us don’t even realize we’re at risk,” she said.
For Pamplin, years of unmanaged high blood pressure led to her health emergencies. She was diagnosed years ago but didn’t take the condition seriously. Heart problems struck even though she had previously lost 40 pounds. This led her to explore not just physical health, but mental and emotional health as well.
Pamplin has started an event series and has a self-published book coming out soon. Her next event is scheduled for Nov. 17 at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle and will focus on dance, yoga and herbal health and nutrition.
She credits the medical team at Overlake, including everyone from the nurses to surgeons, for saving her live, but she also gives credit to her husband, who she said stuck by her as much as he could during her long stay in the hospital.
“He was there all the time, as much as he could be, and was critical to helping to bring me back or to save my life,” she said.
Her husband is a yoga instructor and helped coach her through breathing exercises. Even though Pamplin said many men can leave the hospital during medical emergencies because they feel powerless, she also said the presence of a partner or husband can be critical for women in health emergencies.
Pamplin’s event schedule and book orders can be viewed online at BeautifulPowerfulLove.com.