BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Strength.
The ability to fight.
These are characteristics attributed to “Wonder Woman.”
Dale Elijah considers his wife, Peggy, to be his wonder woman, and for good reason.
Not only has she overcome a plethora of health conditions, but she has also come back from her heart stopping for 90 seconds and has surprised her doctors, who did not think she would pull through after a mitral valve was replaced in her heart.
A life of health concerns
Peggy grew up in East St. Louis, IL, where she contracted tuberculosis at the age of 10.
She survived, but contracted the disease again when she was about 16.
“That’s why she thought her lungs were so bad,” Dale said.
She wasn’t spared maladies as an adult, either.
In 1980, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She survived it, only to be diagnosed with lymph node cancer in 1984.
That didn’t keep her down, either.
In 1990, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, followed by bone cancer in 1997.
“She beat all of that,” Dale said.
And she did so with a positive attitude.
“Never once did she say, ‘Woe is me,’” Dale said. “She just kept on going.”
She has been cancer free for 20 years.
New health problems surface
In recent years, Peggy was finding herself short of breath.
“She thought it was because of the tuberculosis and radiation,” Dale said.
But, Nov. 1, 2016, she learned that wasn’t the case.
A neighbor took her to the clinic in Watertown because she was weak, drowsy, and breathing very hard.
“Dr. Jensen told her, ‘You better get to the hospital,’” Dale said. “That’s when they started doing heart tests and found the bad mitral valve in her heart.”
From November to April, Peggy went to the emergency room three times, and was admitted to the hospital four times, leading to a referral to Dr. Mario Goessl at the Minneapolis Heart Institute.
“At that time, they referred her to us because they knew it would be hard for her to be a candidate for open heart surgery,” Goessl said.
Goessl specializes in transcatheter valve replacements.
“This is a minimally invasive approach where the heart valve is replaced using a catheter,” Goessl said. “The engineers have developed heart valves that can be squeezed down to a few millimeters and inserted into the body via small catheters and expand inside the old valve.”
Peggy was one of the first 50 people to have the procedure done, Goessl said.
He explained how the procedure works.
“The catheter is pushed through the tip of the heart,” Goessl said. “That gives access. If you push it to a straight line, that’s where the mitral valve is located.”
The old mitral valve stays in the heart, but is pushed aside.
“The valve has a ring structure; there are leaflets,” Goessl said. “When we put a new valve inside the native valve, the leaflets are pushed aside, and the new valve takes over.”
Peggy’s procedure took place April 26.
“About a week later, they thought they could send her home, but they decided to hang on to her for a couple days,” Dale said.
Then, her breathing worsened and she was placed in the intensive care unit May 3.
Six days later, her heart stopped for 90 seconds, prompting her doctors to put her into a self-induced coma for three days.
“May 12, that was when the first doctor told us, basically, there was no hope,” Dale said. “Her lungs were failing. Her kidneys were failing. Her heart was weak. Her liver was shutting down. She said, ‘In a few days, she will probably pass away.’”
During another meeting May 14, four doctors came to the same conclusion, saying she probably would not live past May 17.
“As we almost expected because she was rather ill, she suffered for many weeks afterwards,” Goessl said. “Her kidneys did not do well right after the procedure. Unfortunately, she had pain in her chest. Small arteries were leaking. There was a thought she might not make it.”
May 17 passed, and Peggy was still fighting.
“The night of the 18th, we asked her, ‘Are you going to fight this?’ She shook her head yes,” Dale said. “We asked, ‘Are you sure you don’t want us to give up on you?’ She shook her head no . . . Her brain was there. We could ask her questions and she could blink her eyes or move her head. We really couldn’t give up then.”
May 23, Dale asked Peggy if she wanted the breathing tube taken out, and she shook her head yes. Specialists shut it off for three hours and learned she could breath on her own, so they decided to take it out.
She continued to make progress and, May 25, she was taken out of ICU.
She remained at Abbott Northwestern Hospital until June 14, when she was moved to Regency Hospital in Golden Valley to receive therapy.
“When we took her to Golden Valley, they asked for her name,” Dale said. “We said Peggy Elijah, Wonder Woman. That’s what they wrote down. She’s a real-life Wonder Woman to keep going through all this.”
Her doctors were impressed.
“From my professional opinion, looking at her a few weeks after surgery, with everything going against her, I would have thought she would not make it,” Goessl said. “She must have God’s blessing, and also her attitude going into the procedure, plus the family support. If there’s hope, we try to push through it. There was a glimpse of hope, so we pushed through. We’re very glad for her recovery.”
As part of her recovery, a dialysis port was removed July 10, and Peggy was moved to the Estates at Delano July 14.
Her rehabilitation continues, and she is walking with a walker.
She is expected to make a full recovery.
“The whole team is excited,” Goessl said. “Her husband is always giving updates. That’s so important to us. They are so involved and so excited about new technologies. We get very concerned about our patients. We’re very, very excited for her.”