Heart condition made everyday activities difficult for local woman

Doctors find blood in lungs

BRISTOL, Tenn. - A Bristol woman says she'll never forget the look of concern on her doctor's face when she learned her lungs were filled with blood.

The 5th of the month means it's time to ‘Live Red' for women's heart health. It's a partnership with Wellmont Health System to bring awareness of heart disease.

Singing and playing instruments have been a part of Cindi Ellmaker's life for as long as she can remember, but two years ago it became difficult. "I had more trouble singing, taking deep breaths, and all of that. I would just run out of air," she said.

10 years earlier, Ellmaker was told she had a heart murmur, but she didn't do anything about it and kept regular doctor's appointments to monitor it. "I just hated climbing steps, because I would get so out of breath. Other little things would make me tired, but I still just didn't feel all that bad," she said.

The next visit to the doctor, Ellmaker was told just how worrisome her condition was. "[The doctor] said both of my valves had moved to the severe leaking level," she explained.

The doctors took her condition very seriously. "They didn't even send me home. I got admitted right away," adds Ellmaker.

Wellmont CVA Heart Institute Cardiologist Jonathan Burress tells us the tests show what was causing the Ellmaker's shortness of breath. "They're having a significant amount of blood flow going back into their lungs," he said.

Dr. Burress tells us the surgery is a long one, but it was successful. "They actually excised the old valves and they sewed in, in her case, new metallic valves," he said.

Ellmaker has advice to anyone who notices something out of the ordinary go to the doctor right away. "I asked Dr. Burress, if I hadn't had this operation how much longer would I have been around? He said two, maybe three years," she said.

Ellmaker tells us it's been two years since her surgery, and now she is back to singing and playing music as well as walking up to four miles at the Creeper Trail.

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