In A Heartbeat
October 2021 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
In August 2008, Janet Hendricks was enjoying an active life in Austin, Texas. “I ate healthy. I wasn’t overweight and have never been so. I was so rarely sick; I hadn’t been to a doctor in years,” she said. That all changed in a heartbeat.
“I was just hanging out at home, and suddenly, I couldn’t breathe,” said Hendricks, who now lives in Brunswick. She ended up in the ER where she was initially told she was probably having anxiety because her oxygen levels tested normal. However, her blood work showed something far worse. “Not only was I having severe respiratory problems, but I was also in advanced heart failure. At the age of 48, I was told I needed a heart transplant!”
Because she didn’t have health insurance at the time, she was not put on a heart transplant list. Her fight was just beginning. “They don’t want to talk to you if you don’t have insurance,” she said. “My heart function had gotten down to only five percent. I was told to make my final plan and wishes known. At the time, I was in a long-term relationship, but he just couldn’t handle it, so I had to deal with it myself.”
Since she couldn’t get a heart transplant, Janet was put on seven different heart maintenance medications instead. But she said she wasn’t going to give up. With her options in Austin exhausted, Janet found two hospitals in east Texas that might offer the help she needed, so she relocated. “At the first hospital, I saw a cardiologist who didn’t give me any hope,” said Janet, who had also been repeatedly turned down for disability, although she could no longer physically work.
However, an electrophysiologist at the second hospital took an active interest in her case. “He was so kind and really wanted to help me. He told me that he believed that implanting a pacemaker, along with a defibrillator was what I needed.” After eight long years of doors closing and hopes dashed, Janet finally got the help she needed. That help came from this physician and from a judge who finally approved her getting disability payments. “I am so thankful for that doctor and that judge,” she said. “After being turned down for disability three times, that judge finally heard my case and granted it to me. That was a lifesaver for me.”
The surgery also turned into a life-saving operation. “I was admitted to St. Luke’s (Health-Memorial Hospital) in Lufkin and had the implantation surgery in 2016.” Janet said her condition started improving, and now, five years later, she is doing well. “I’m only on three meds,” she said.
After getting the green light from her doctor to go back to work and travel, Janet made her move east. “I always wanted to see Savannah, so I stayed there a month. I thought I wanted to move to Jacksonville. I had visited Jacksonville Beach and loved it, but Jacksonville was just too much— too much traffic, too many highways. I decided to go back up to Savannah.”
However, fate had other plans. “I made a pit stop in Brunswick (Old Town Newcastle area) and never left,” she said, laughing. “I fell in love with Brunswick, and I really love getting to go to the beach, especially during the off season.”
Although she previously worked in insurance and now works in logistics and property management, Janet said, “I’m a born artist. I do like that we have tourists here that bring in business. I’d love to maybe open my own art shop someday in downtown Brunswick.”
Living in the Golden Isles also gives her easy access to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville—one of the other reasons she initially wanted to move to the River City.
After having to see a cardiologist once every six months, Janet now sees her cardiologist at Mayo only every three years. “My heart function is now up to normal. They tested me for clogged arteries and high cholesterol, and I have neither. Since no biopsy of my heart was taken, they can only speculate that I may have had an infection as a child that migrated and settled in my left ventricle, damaging it.”
She continues to live a healthy lifestyle and keeps a positive outlook on life. “I’m a fast walker, and I also like to do light weights. It’s important to do both cardio exercise and weights, especially when you have heart damage. I also eat well. Hiking and camping have also helped me a lot. I would also love to either find a heart support group, especially for women, or start one for people with heart disease.”
Janet’s experience made her realize how important it is for patients to advocate for their own health. “Don’t take the word of one doctor. Get another opinion and another and another if you need to.
It’s up to you to fight for your life.”
Origins: The small, sea-side town of Glen Cove, Long Island, New York. “I could walk to the beach. It was a really nice place to grow up.”
Current Employment: Works in logistics for LaserShip in Jacksonville and manages several properties in Glynn County. “After not being able to work for so long, when I could go back, I put the pedal to the metal to catch up! I’ve really gone all in and work long hours,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll be able to cut back some and be able to do more in town. I’d love to be more involved in the community.”
Artistic Passions: “I love, love, love print making. I also love crafting. It’s so much fun to rip old clothes up and weave them into purses and rugs.”
Culinary Skills & Hosting Talents: “I enjoy cooking, and I always loved, loved throwing dinner parties. I hope to get back to doing that.”
Future Relationship: “I was divorced many years ago. I’m single, but maybe another relationship is out there in the future.”