“It happened for a reason and if this is the reason, I’m all about it,” Debbie Gann, 50 says of discovering her new passion to spread awareness for heart disease. “Even if you have family history of heart disease, you can overcome it through exercise, diet, lifestyle changes and being positive. Bypass surgery doesn’t have to stop you.”
March 12, 2013 Debbie noticed she didn’t feel right when she was walking out to her truck to go to work. “My heart started pounding hard and fast,” she recalls. The tingling feeling in her chest that made it feel like she was breathing in cold air stopped as soon as she sat down in her truck. She felt fine as she drove into work, but noticed as soon as she started walking inside, her heart started pounding fast again. That afternoon she mentioned it to a co-worker, as it continued when she would walk or stand. “I’m not in any pain,” Debbie told her, “but my heart feels like it is going to pound out of my chest.”
Debbie’s co-worker handed her an aspirin and glass of water, but Debbie grew more worried and became dizzy. “I didn’t have the classic signs of a heart attack,” she adds. “But I knew something was wrong.”
They called 911 for an ambulance. Debbie took another aspirin – chewing, not swallowing with water, as directed by the 911 operator. Debbie was transported to Hillcrest South Emergency Department. An initial EKG did not indicate Debbie was having a heart attack, but a blood test revealed her heart enzymes were elevated. She was scheduled for a heart catheterization with Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist Dr. Kyle Zimmmerman.
“He said, ‘Young lady, we have some major problems,’” Debbie says Dr. Zimmerman told her when he walked back into her room. She had major blockages in three main arteries – 99, 98 and 89 percent. Due to the nature of the blockages, Dr. Zimmerman referred her to cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Paul Kempe at Oklahoma Heart Institute’s Hillcrest Medical Center campus. Dr. Kempe performed a triple bypass surgery March 18, 2013.
“I’m just so thankful to be alive,” Debbie says as she holds back tears. With her family history, she knows it could have been much worse. Her father and oldest brother both had quadruple bypass surgery. Her mother had double bypass surgery. At the age of 52, another brother passed away a year earlier from a massive heart attack.
“It has changed me as a person,” Debbie says of her life following bypass surgery. Holding her cough buddy in her arms the day after surgery, Debbie realized recovering meant putting one of her passions on hold – singing. Through cardiac rehab at Hillcrest South, Debbie’s heart health strengthened, but she still found it difficult to breathe the way she needed to sing and admits at times, she was frustrated.
Then a friend told her about a contest – Most Powerful Voices. After some convincing, Debbie decided to send in a song she recorded on one of her CDs and entered the “Traditional Gospel” category. The contest raises awareness for heart disease and stroke and for Debbie, it was a perfect fit. Ranked in the top 100, Debbie will find out if she makes the top 50 on March 30 in the nationwide contest. To listent to her song and vote, visit Most Powerful Voices and click on Debbie Gann's picture in the Traditional Gospel section of the gospel contest.
A year after triple bypass surgery, Debbie is still healing and building up her strength to sing again. Through this contest and support from family, friends and fans, she is finding her most powerful voice yet.