Matters of the Heart
Breathing became physically exhausting to Priscilla Fraser.
Routine things like making a bed or taking a shower left the 53-year-old woman gasping. Medical experts were unable to offer a definitive explanation after multiple visits to doctors and emergency rooms, making her illness emotionally draining.
All that changed about seven months ago, when another visit to a doctor and a heart catheterization test determined Priscilla's arteries were blocked anywhere from 75 to 95 percent. Open-heart surgery at Hilton Head Hospital was scheduled two days after the diagnosis on July 15, 2010. "The doctor wanted to do surgery right quick, he didn't want to wait," said Ronnie Fraser, Priscilla's emotional rock and husband of 34 years.
The operation lasted seven hours, with Ronnie - who works at the hospital as a cook - and others in Priscilla's family holding onto every update delivered by the hospital's staff. Priscilla came through without any complications. She was walking around the hospital's halls just 24 hours later and returned home to Ridgeland five days after surgery.
Today, Priscilla is living a healthy life, working full-time in retail sales and volunteering at her church. "I am still here today and I am able to do the things I used to do," Priscilla said.
Women are as likely to develop the risk factors for heart disease as men, according to the American Heart Association. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women. The most common heart attack symptoms for men and women are chest pains or discomfort. Women are somewhat more likely to experience some other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting and back and jaw pain. Priscilla's check list included most every symptom.
Heart disease does not run in Priscilla's family. Her late father, Nathan Jones, and her mother, Anna Liza Jones, never had any problems. Same can be said for her three brothers and three living sisters. Doctors said Priscilla's problem was caused by thin and narrow arteries, Priscilla said.
As a teenager at Ridgeland High School, Priscilla was active in choir and the yearbook committee and was crowned Miss Ridgeland High queen in 1976. She married Ronnie in 1976, after the two met working at Calibogue CafÈ (now Crazy Crab) at Harbour Town in Sea Pines Plantation.
Priscilla has devoted much of her life to children, serving on the school board in the Jasper County School District for the past 15 years, winning re-election for four more years in November. She's also the director of the youth choir at Cary Hill Baptist Church in Ridgeland.
Priscilla, who never smoked, started experiencing shortness of breath about two and a half years ago. She assumed it was from being overweight at 174 pounds and five-feet-three-inches tall. The symptoms continued on and off for months. "I didn't know what was going on," Priscilla said. "Some days I could wake up and feel indigestion even to the point where my back hurt." Doctors determined she had a minor case of acid reflux.
Her big scare came in September 2009 on a family trip to Atlantic City. N.J. Priscilla kept waking up all night short of breath, quietly tossing and turning as not to disturb her husband or sister. She checked into a hospital the next morning and was told she had 40 percent blockage in her arteries.
Medication kept her condition under control until the following June. Priscilla planned to be at church one Sunday, but another episode of poor breathing got her nervous. She took a nitroglycerin pill and began vomiting. Within weeks, Priscilla was examined by Hilton Head Cardiologist, Dr. Jay Kalan, and tests showed she was in immediate need of open-heart surgery. Dr. David Kastl performed the operation.
Today, Priscilla's weight is down to 158 pounds and she's working on losing more. She's returned to work as manager at a women's garment store at Tanger Outlet Center in Bluffton. She's changed her eating habits, eliminating fatty foods, most dairy products and salt from her diet.
"Ronnie's a cook, so it's hard," Priscilla said. "Before, I thought I was doing pretty good. I stayed away from the fried foods, eating baked chicken and fish and turkey. I love mac and cheese and can't have that anymore."
Hometown: Born and raised in Ridgeland, SC
Family: Married to Ronnie Fraser for 34 years. Children: Bridgett Jones, 36; Tina Owens; 34, Ronnie Fraser Jr. 31; and seven grandchildren.
Rewarding activity: Working with the children of the church who sing on the fourth Sunday of every month at Cary Hill Baptist Church in Ridgeland.
Other Lifestyle changes: Drinks at least 48 oz.
of water a day.
Advice to follow: People need to be persistent about their health and should not put off signals such as persistent shortness of breath.