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Our Patients. Their Stories. Steven and Arleen Rutledge

Our Patients. Their Stories. Steven and Arleen Rutledge

Dance has brought pure joy to our life and I don't want to dance with anyone else.

Arleen Rutledge

Steven and Arleen Rutledge have been in lockstep for 47 years. That’s how long they’ve been married, and as part owners of Bridgman’s Furniture in Lebanon, New Hampshire, they’ve managed to navigate a successful working relationship. But in all the ways they’ve partnered over the years, from raising children to running a business, dancing wasn't one of them. Not until more recently, anyway.

As Arleen approached her 50th birthday, she suggested how fun it might be to take up dancing. Steven may not have shared that interest, but he loved his wife. So on her birthday, they dined at Jesse’s Restaurant in Lebanon, and he presented her with a card and a gift, and said, “I’ll take ballroom dancing lessons with you.”

Fourteen years later, not only are they still dancing, they take dance classes three times a week. And each weekend, in between time with their grandchildren, they find a ballroom floor to grace with their footwork.

“It’s become a very social thing for us,” says Arleen. “We’ve met so many people through ballroom dancing.”

And Steven admits he’s come to love dancing. “It’s taught me that I don’t have two left feet! Honestly, if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

But this new passion and social outlet prepared Steven and Arleen for more than they bargained for when each experienced similar cardiac events.

Although Arleen’s family has a history of heart disease, she had never experienced any symptoms until one night in October 2009, attending the opening of a ballroom, going up and down the stairs she wondered why she suddenly felt so out of breath. “And when Steve and I were dancing,” she says, “I felt like my chest was on fire.”

The next day, the chest pains subsided. But the day after that, that burning feeling returned. Arleen called her physician, who said to get to the hospital right away.

At Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H), Nathaniel Niles, MD, in Cardiovascular Medicine, performed a catheterization test on Arleen and found 98 percent blockage in her left anterior descending (LAD) artery. Fortunately, a day later, the procedure to place a stent in the artery went smoothly, as did Arleen’s recovery.

Pleased with the care she received from Niles and the cardiovascular team, Arleen says the true value of her patient experience came through her time in Cardiac Rehab. “I highly, highly recommend rehab to anyone who goes through a cardiac event,” she says. “It’s a good thing for the mind and the body. It helped me through bouts of melancholy, and being with other people who have had a similar experience helps you be less afraid and to rediscover your strength.”

Steven had no way of knowing that Cardiac Rehab would someday prove just as invaluable to him.

Almost mirroring Arleen’s experience, sometime before Christmas in 2012, Steven thought the chest pain he felt on the dance floor was just heartburn. Nevertheless, soon after, he scheduled an appointment to see his doctor.

But several days later, while wrapping up a big event at the furniture store and mentioning to his brother that he was headed to the doctor tomorrow to investigate his chest pain, Steven’s brother insisted, “No, you’re going now!”

Steven was admitted at D-H immediately, and only minutes later he was surrounded by cardiologists, he recalls. A catheterization quickly determined the extent of arterial blockage, and it presented an option more serious than Arleen’s: that he was not a candidate for a stent, but would require bypass surgery.

On June 3, 2013, during surgery, the surgeon made something of a surprise discovery: a large hole in the upper atrium of his heart, where blood enters the heart. Steven was told that the hole, if left unrepaired, was large enough for a blood clot to pass through and lead to the brain or the lungs, either of which could be deadly.

Steven entered Cardiac Rehab a few weeks later and came to the same conclusions about it that Arleen had. “Over time it rebuilt my confidence in my body’s strength and ability to recover,” he says. “You go from feeling really frail to feeling really strong.”

One of the biggest lessons that Steven and Arleen learned in Cardiac Rehab is how much heart health is influenced by stress. And both of them admit that their work life had contributed a great deal of stress.

Fortunately, their dance life has provided the perfect remedy. “When we dance, we rarely argue about anything,” Arleen says. “Even if he takes the wrong step, I don’t care—just as long as he doesn’t step on me!”

“Dance has brought pure joy to our life,” she adds, “and I don’t want to dance with anyone else.”