So last winter, when Jane arrived at the top of the 47 stairs at the Rensselaer, New York, train station struggling to breathe, it gave her husband, Neil, pause for concern.
“I first became aware of women’s cardiovascular disease when I became friendly with Dr. Kathy Magliato, cardiothoracic surgeon and national spokesperson for Go Red For Women,” Neil said. “She passed on a wealth of information, including a major identifying symptom in women being the onset of fatigue. Most women never get diagnosed properly because being very tired is not immediately associated with CVD.”
Neil had noticed that Jane was falling asleep earlier in the evenings than usual. When he also noticed shortness of breath, he put the pieces together.
“Neil was insistent that it was my heart,” Jane said. “I brushed it off, but he was persistent.”
So persistent that when it kept happening, Neil called a cardiologist, Dr. Christopher Dibble.
“She was not a happy camper,” Neil said.
Jane was diagnosed with unmanaged atrial fibrillation. Also called AFib or AF, this is a quivering or irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. An estimated 2.7 million Americans live with AFib.
“My heart rate would go as high as 200 beats per minute, and actually stopped beating twice for seconds,” Jane said.
Jane was understandably scared when she received the diagnosis. A cancer survivor, she feared the worst. Yet today she feels quite good.
“Any kind of heart issue is unsettling,” Neil said. After we understood what AFib was all about, and that people can live long and healthy lives with it, it eased our concerns.”
The Golubs are admired philanthropists in the Capital Region of New York. Neil is a native of Schenectady, and Jane grew up in Forest Hills. Neil is the executive chairman at Price Chopper Supermarkets, a 135-store chain with roots dating back to the 1920s, and Jane is the company’s Director of In-Store Marketing.
Neil’s interest in women’s health dates to his six-year chairmanship of Bellevue Womans Hospital. He has since become the community’s advocate for women’s health, which has led to the Neil & Jane Golub Breast Care Center and, most recently, a heart health assessment center at Bellevue.
Jane and their daughter, Mona, co-chaired the 2011 Capital Region Go Red For Women Luncheon. After the 2012 Heart Ball, Neil and Jane offered to chair the 2013 event. Little did they realize that in early December 2013, Jane would be diagnosed with AFib. This past October, Jane worked with a photographer and videographer from New York City to create public-service announcements about AFib.
The AFib diagnosis came on Jane’s 75th birthday in December 2013. The Golubs traveled to Florida as planned after that, but Jane wore a heart rhythm monitor while there.
“That was a tough 10 days,” said Neil Golub. Jane added, “It was awful.”
The monitor went off regularly, and Jane had daily phone calls with the staff remotely monitoring the machine.
When the Golubs returned to Schenectady, Jane received a pacemaker and began a course of medication to treat the AFib. Some symptoms continued, so doctors performed a procedure called an AV Node Ablation.
“Atrial Fibrillation is an interesting condition,” said Dibble, a non-invasive cardiologist with Cardiology Associates of Schenectady. “Everyone’s symptoms are different, and the American Heart Association’s new guidelines about AFib recommend personalized treatment for each case.”
Symptoms can range from nothing to feeling the heart flutter, to shortness of breath, to passing out, among others.
“It’s important that you see a doctor regularly, and be attuned to changes in your body – like Neil was with Jane’s fatigue,” Dibble said.
Dibble pointed out that AFib is an arrhythmia, a condition that is distinct from coronary artery disease.
There are two critical issues with AFib.
“You have to figure out what to do about the heart rhythm,” he said. “With Jane, the pacemaker and the ablation corrected the rhythm. And having Atrial Fibrillation puts you at a much higher risk of stroke, so some patients need a blood thinner to reduce the risk of clotting.”
Dibble said that the number of therapies for AFib has increased dramatically in the past 25 years, which is good news for people diagnosed with the condition.
“Atrial Fibrillation when managed appropriately is a live-with, not a die-from diagnosis,” he said.
Jane Golub shares her story to raise awareness and spread a message of prevention.
“If I can reach just one woman with the message that `if you’re breathless, check it out,’ that would make a difference,” Jane said. “I also share my story as a way of thanking Neil and the cardiologists.”
At the Capital Region Heart Ball, the Golubs took the podium to share their story with humor and poignancy.
“Neil and I opened a breast care center,” Jane told the audience. “Then I got breast cancer. We opened the heart center at Bellevue Womans Hospital, and I got heart disease. I said to Neil, `Whatever we do, let’s not open a fertility clinic.’”
As she and Neil urged the crowd to take care of their own health and also be aware of their loved ones, the video screens behind them showed a sculpture of a hand holding a heart.
“That was my Valentine’s Day gift to Neil,” Jane said of her husband of 51 years. “He holds my heart in his hands.”
Photos courtesy of Jane and Neil Golub
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