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Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Cardiologist, with help from mobile device, detected serious irregular heartbeat

Gwen Sibert is grateful to her cardiologist and her mobile devices

They diagnosed an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke and heart failure. 

“It can be really dangerous,” she said.

Just over a year ago, the 74-year-old had just finished having supper with her husband when she felt her heart racing. Thanks to her Apple watch, which displays heart rate, Sibert could see it was elevated. It returned to normal after about a half hour.

The next episode was about a month later and this time the fast heartbeat woke her up. She made an appointment the next day with her family doctor, who recommended a cardiologist. Sibert met Dr. Kathleen Evans, who is employed by the Heart Center Inc. in Huntsville and works full-time at Marshall South. She scheduled a stress test and echocardiogram. 

Once again, just days later, Sibert was awakened by her heart running away. This time she was ready.


Sibert had the AliveCor smartphone app, which allows her to record her own EKG. It detected Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib. She told her husband they needed to get to the ER. It was 3 am. An EKG at Marshall South confirmed what the app showed. 

Dr. Evans ordered a stress test and a Doppler ultrasound, eventually diagnosing Sibert as having paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, which means the heart-racing episodes stop on their own. Three drugs were prescribed – a blood thinner, a cholesterol lowering drug and a beta blocker. Except for one episode last year, they have stopped altogether, to Sibert’s relief.

“Having patients like Mrs. Sibert who take responsibility for their medical conditions makes my job so much easier,” said Dr. Evans. “Doctors can only do so much – give medication, recommendations, surgery, procedures, testing; patients must be the most active participant in the team if they want to feel their best and reduce their risk of adverse events, such as myocardial infarction, stroke and overall debility.”

AFib is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib, which causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat irregularly instead of beating effectively to move blood into the ventricles. When blood is not consistently being moved it is at higher risk of clotting.
It becomes dangerous when a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, resulting in a stroke. About 15–20 percent of people who have strokes have AFib. The clot risk is why patients with this condition are put on blood thinners. Untreated AFib doubles the risk of heart-related deaths and is associated with a 5-fold increased risk for stroke.  

Sibert said she had never met a female cardiologist before Dr. Evans, and she is very impressed with the care she received from her. 

“Dr. Evans is very smart,” Sibert said. “I think she’s very caring.”

Female cardiologists are rare. Fewer than 1 in 10 cardiologists in the U.S. are women. 

Dr. Evans joined the Marshall South cardiac team in 2015. Her main focus is general cardiology, echocardiography and nuclear stress tests. She is board certified in Internal Medicine and board eligible in cardiovascular diseases. She also is board certified in integrative and holistic medicine. Her interests include cardiac imaging (including nuclear, CT and echocardiography), integrative medicine and clinical cardiology.

As a doctor of Osteopathic medicine, Dr. Evans uses a holistic approach with her patients. Osteopathic physicians focus on prevention, tuning into how a patient’s lifestyle and environment can impact their wellbeing. 

Speaking to a group of Marshall County senior citizens last year about cardiovascular disease, Dr. Evans  said the condition causes one in four deaths every year, even though it is preventable. She warned that a change of lifestyle is critical to avoid being a statistic.

“Most Americans sit for 11 hours every day then they go home and sleep,” she said. “So there’s not much time for activity. If you don’t like where you are, then get up and change it. You are not a tree. You are free to move and change things.”

Sibert, who taught chemistry for 41 years to middle schoolers, high schoolers and college students, said she is very pleased to find this caliber of medical care available in Boaz. 

“Dr. Evans is awesome,” she said. “It’s so nice having this hospital here.”

Good advice Sibert likes to share was given to her husband Alan by his cardiologist when he had a heart attack in 2002. She followed it and is glad she did.

“You don’t want to make the acquaintance of your cardiologist in the emergency room,” she said. “I followed that. Just barely, but I followed it. And I feel great.”

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