Sikkink helps make medical history

A Hinckley woman has helped make history by participating in a trial heart surgery that has the potential to  save the lives of many, many more patients in years to come.

Janet Sikkink has spent most of her life in this area. She grew up and graduated from Pine City High School, and now works at a Christian school and with her church. However, beginning in 2007, she has had many issues with her heart.

At that time, Sikkink was a nurse. She dismissed her symptoms as acid reflux, but the symptoms did not lessen and Janet suffered her first heart attack. At Abbott, Northwestern Hospital doctors put stents in her arteries – tubes to keep her arteries open and reduce the risk of another heart attack.

In 2011 Sikkink endured open heart surgery. This was not an easy time for her. Sikkink described the recovery process as a “nightmare” of long days and nights in the ICU, while suffering from pain and insomnia.

More recently, Sikkink began experiencing an insistent burning in her chest and a notable lack of energy. Eventually she gave into the pain and went to see a doctor. She found out that her tricupsid valve – one of the four valves in her heart – was leaking, keeping her blood from flowing properly and causing her fatigue and other symptoms. She was also told that it could lead to heart failure.

Her doctor told her about a life-changing new device still being researched: the TriClip. The TriClip is designed to help keep blood flowing in the right direction through the heart, and offers treatment without open heart surgery. The device is inserted through the femoral vein in the leg and clips together leaflets of the tricuspid valve minimizing the backflow of blood, which results in the heart working more efficiently. The recovery time is intended to be much quicker than open heart surgery.

Sikkink wanted to try it. She was adamant that she would never do open heart surgery again. But getting into the trial was not easy. There was lots of paperwork, and it all came down to a computer generator randomly picking names.

But one August morning, Sikkink got the call.

“I was waiting to get in, and then – boom – all of a sudden they accepted me and I had to be down there, and that was it,” Sikkink explained. “You’re in and then you’re down there. There was no thinking about it.”

Sikkink said she wasn’t afraid going into the procedure, but wasn’t expecting what happened when she came out of surgery.

“They wheeled me down this long hall, and it was full of people just cheering and jumping up and down and crying and here – they’re the ones who invented it, and they never get to see the patient, so they were excited.

“I was the third person in the whole wide world [to get the TriClip],” she explained. “The whole hospital was on air– they were just floating because everyone was so happy about it. I didn’t realize the impact that it would have. That was a memory I won’t forget.”

Since her surgery, Sikkink has been getting back into the old swing of things  and described herself as feeling “one hundred percent.”

So far, the only downside of her surgery was that last year she had to miss her annual tradition of attending the Minnesota State Fair.    

“Last summer I could not do much at all,” she said. “This summer I’m out mowing my lawn, and tending the gardens and stuff. So, my energy is back.”

The Star Tribune also did a piece on Sikkink, which she took to her clinic’s receptionist. The receptionist  told her “Thank you. You may have saved my life one day. You never know who will or won’t need this.”  

At first, Sikkink saw the procedure as an opportunity to rid herself of pain and take back her life, but she soon realized that it was much more. Her participation led to new opportunities for others in the future with heart issues, and who knows the countless lives that could be saved by this procedure.

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