Donna Schulze feels blessed to be alive. Not lucky. Blessed. Divine intervention. We’re talking the stuff of miracles. Because the Good Lord was watching out for her, she’s still making the rounds on Kauai.
“I just feel so grateful,” she said. “I feel so thankful to tell my story.”
The 89-year-old pauses for a moment, then smiles as she continues talking.
“The Good Lord has overdone it,” she said, adding again she sometimes can’t believe how good, how happy she feels to be out and about on Kauai.
“He has to take time to do things for other people,” Donna said, laughing. “He’s spending too much time on me.”
Thanks to friend Karla Rowan, Schulze was able to attend the Koloa Sugar Mill Run last Sunday and root for competitors. Later, she watched the awards ceremony, joined by her faithful little dog, Patches.
Known as the “Lavender Lady of Kilauea,” she loves being part of the community, especially events that promote running and fitness. It’s thanks to her career that includes finishing more than 200 races that she had the strength and condition to survive the surgery.
“The Good Lord is taking caring of me,” she said as she stood near the covered shelter area to avoid the wind and rain.
The beloved Kilauea woman is healthy and home following surgery on Aug. 6 at Queen’s Medical Center on Oahu.
The mother of five was stunned that day on April 25 when her heart doctor informed her she had severe aortic stenosis.
“I’ve got something to tell you, it’s not good news,” he told her. “You have six months or less.”
Schulze was stunned. She felt fine. Fit. Walked often. Took care of herself. As far as she knew, she was the proverbial picture of health. She was, for many, an inspiration, a community volunteer who gave what she could and asked for nothing back.
This diagnosis was a bit of a stunner.
Schulze is a believer in God, and in exercise, too. She says she used to have diabetes and high blood pressure. No more. She beat it with exercise, diet and positive thoughts. She played basketball on a senior team right up to her doctor’s diagnosis.
Aortic stenosis is described as this: “Your aortic valve has a problem opening. The ventricle has to work harder to push the blood through the valve.
In some cases, this extra work will make the muscle of the ventricle thicken. In time, the extra work can tire the heart and cause the heart muscle to weaken. This type of stenosis can quickly get worse.”
But there was a chance to change her future. Schulze cleared tests for an operation at Queen’s called transcatheter aortic valve replacement.
“Yes, I would like to live longer, but I was having no trouble with anything,” Donna wrote. “So I said yes to the operation.”
It went well.
“The procedure had gone better than they expected,” Donna wrote. “My many years of running and heavy exercise had given me strong leg veins.”
She returned home Aug. 10. It wasn’t long before she was walking with Patches. She’s baking again in the kitchen.
She was thrilled to be back and as far as she’s concerned, better than ever.
“I feel overwhelmed by the whole thing,” Donna said.
A six-month checkup found her strong.
“I don’t have a single pain, she said. “I have so much energy now.
“Now, I know I’m going to live another year,” she added.
Schulze said between HMSA and Medicare, she ended up with a bill of less than $1,000. And after paying up, turns out she has a $25 credit.
While Donna is grateful for her recovery, she’s taken on another mission. She’s urging older people to have their hearts checked to be sure they’re sound and in for no surprises.
She believes others likely have aortic stenosis, but don’t know it.
“People have to know. I have to warn people on Kauai,” she said.
“I can only hope that the people who read this have had their heart checked,” she said. “Don’t wait for symptoms. There are none.”
Above all, if it turns out someone has aortic stenosis, don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up hope. Queen’s has terrific doctors, she said, and God, well, he’s always there.
“The Lord is good to me,” Donna said.
She said the prayers of family and friends, the support of her church, North Shore Christian Church, absolutely made the difference.
She plans to continue doing exactly what she’s done her whole life: Encourage, motivate, inspire, lead — for as many years as God gives her.
“I can live longer than I ever expected,” she said.