February is National Heart Month. For a Peshtigo woman, it has new meaning this year. 80-year-old Sandra Ecklund recently had open heart surgery. She's so grateful for the care she received, she's now giving back to the same place that saved and improved her life.
Her warm smile and bubbly personality bring comfort to patients and their families at Aurora Baycare Medical Center.
"She has so much energy. She's so inspiring," says Volunteer Services Manager Amy Griffin.
Ecklund says she hasn't felt that way in years. "When I turned 80, I wasn't feeling all that great. I thought it was my age. It was my heart."
The usually active grandmother found herself taking three naps a day. She struggled with shortness of breath and had to cut back on her exercise routine.
"I was doing a plank when my valve ruptured and then I was in big trouble," Ecklund explains. "Dr. Alexander Roitstein not only fixed my heart, he gave me a whole new life."
After three months of a difficult recovery, she's now working out five days a week again and has lost 48 pounds.
"I'm going to be 81 and I feel like I'm in my 50's."
She's so thankful for her new life, she's now making it her mission to pay it forward. She volunteers two times a week in the same surgical waiting room where her family was once overcome with worry.
"That's a very high stress area. Those people are upset," Ecklund explains. "I can't tell you how many times I've used my own surgical experience here to alleviate some stress, and I'm a living, breathing example of what surgery did."
Ecklund says she'll continue to make the long, emotional trek to Aurora Baycare Medical Center as long as she's able. "This 50 mile drive home is like five miles sometimes. I get home and I think, 'Well how did I get here?' It makes me so happy, I can't even put it into words."
Griffin says the peace of mind Ecklund brings to patients is invaluable. "She's got a beautiful story and a beautiful heart, so we're happy to have her."