Have a Heart for Sally

May 5, 2017

For Sally Ellingson, March 15 started like any other Tuesday.

At 80 years old, Ellingson still worked full time, answering phones and keeping books for the machine repair shop owned by her three sons. After work, she went for a walk with her granddaughter Jamie and whipped up a batch of cookies.

Around 9 p.m., she sat down in her favorite chair, put her feet up and turned on the nightly news. But before she could hear the first story, she felt a sudden tingling in her arms, from wrist to elbow.

She called her daughter, Diane Hoffman, who lived just minutes away. At first, Ellingson only wanted the number for Sanford Health’s 24-hour nurse phone line. But Hoffman sensed more serious danger and drove the short distance to her mother’s home.

When Hoffman and her husband arrived, they found Ellingson collapsed on the bathroom floor. Hoffman felt a sudden rush of déjà vu. Just eight months earlier, the family had lost James Ellingson, Sally’s husband and the father of her four children, to heart failure.

Like his wife, James too spent the day like any other and had no previous heart problems.

With that memory still too fresh in her mind, Hoffman insisted on taking her mother — who had revived and was speaking normally — to the emergency room at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

Hoffman remembers her mother being more concerned about what shoes to wear than getting to the emergency room quickly. Once the family arrived at the emergency room, the severity of Ellingson’s condition became clear.

Ellingson had suffered a major heart attack. Cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Watkins and his team found that one of her major arteries, known as the “widowmaker,” was blocked. The team acted swiftly to restore blood flow by inserting three stents.

Just three years ago, Ellingson may not have survived this life-threatening emergency. Precious time would have been spent flying Ellingson to Duluth, Grand Forks or Fargo, but thanks to the Sanford Heart and Vascular Center, which opened in 2013, Ellingson received immediate attention close to home.

Hoffman knows how serious her mom’s condition was, but she also knows her to be a fighter, having beat three types of cancer prior to her heart attack.

“Mom truly amazed the doctors with how much blockage and damage she had,” Hoffman said. “They told us not everyone survives this much damage. I agreed with that, but they didn’t realize who they were dealing with.”

Ellingson spent the next two weeks in the ICU. Her family celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and Hoffman’s birthday all by Ellingson’s bedside.

She continued her recovery with 36 sessions of heart monitoring at Sanford Cardiac Rehab.

“My care was exceptional,” Ellingson said. “Throughout my recovery, the staff was professional, caring and encouraging.”

That care has helped Ellingson return to her active lifestyle. She continues to work full time and doesn’t have plans to slow down anytime soon.

“The center has saved so many lives, not just mine,” Ellingson said. “I’m so grateful to have received this care close to home.”

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