Most people would be hard-pressed to keep up with Jacquelyn Crawford. The 71-year-old dynamo rarely sits still between tap dancing, volunteer work, tutoring, pet therapy training, babysitting and dog sledding. Yes, dog sledding.
Yet multiple health struggles have attempted to slow her down. In 1999, Crawford rallied through a pulmonary embolism and a ruptured brain aneurysm, despite being given a 1 percent chance of survival. Two years later at a routine checkup, her doctor discovered she had atrial fibrillation (AFib). She was surprised because she had no symptoms.
Her doctor prescribed a blood thinner to prevent stroke, and Crawford returned to her active lifestyle. In 2005, she mushed a team of five sled dogs across the Bering Sea and over the northern tundra of Alaska — an adventure not for the faint of heart.
However, in March 2007, Crawford began to feel exhausted. The heart disorder had progressed to the point where she couldn’t carry her groceries up the steps to her second-floor condo. "No matter what I did, I was out of breath," she says. "I just thought I was getting old. But my doctor told me these were the symptoms of atrial fibrillation. I’d had no symptoms for nearly six years, but when they hit, they hit hard."
Because her condition now required surgical intervention, Crawford was referred to Ralph Damiano, MD, a Washington University cardiac surgeon who is considered an expert in the Cox-Maze procedure to treat AFib.
The Cox-Maze procedure, the first successful operation to treat AFib, was developed at Washington University. The experienced cardiac surgeons at Barnes-Jewish are world leaders in the surgical treatment of AFib and have the best recorded follow-up results in the world for the procedure’s success rates.
In November 2007, Damiano performed the Cox-Maze procedure on Crawford to restore her heart rhythm. "I had the utmost trust in Dr. Damiano. He’s a miracle worker," Crawford says. "The doctors and staff make you feel so comfortable and are just excellent. The doctors personalize the care for you to find the exact right procedure."
Today, Crawford’s heart rhythm is normal, and she is medication-free, tap dances in the Senior Olympics, takes spinning and water aerobics classes and is planning another Alaskan dog sledding trip for next spring.
"I feel wonderful and have so much energy," she says. "I got my life back."