- By Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
Amy Simmons knew something was wrong but, like many folks, she wasn’t crazy about making a trip to the doctor’s office.
The founder of Austin-based Amy’s Ice Creams said she felt fine whenever she went for a run or took part in some other sort of brisk exercise, but when she was just standing – or sitting – with little to no activity whatsoever, she’d often feel faint.
“It got so bad that at one point, when I was in our shops, I’d ask the young kid I was working with not to leave me alone in the room in case I passed out,” she said in a recent interview.
Finally, Simmons gave in and headed to the doctor. She was fitted for 24 hours with a heart monitor designed to see what was wrong. The end result? Simmons wound up with a pacemaker embedded in her shoulder.
“A pacemaker sounds like it’s something super scary,” she said, “and I found it’s actually very common.”
That was 20 years ago and the Austin entrepreneur says she’s felt fine ever since. She said she regrets not seeing a doctor sooner.
“I think for women, in particular, we’re so used to taking care of others,” she said. “We have to remember to take care of ourselves. The key is not being afraid and to go in and get yourself checked out.”
Dr. Rodney Horton, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the Texas Cardiac Arrhythmia Institute at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, is Simmons’ doctor. He says that as people age, their heart – the body’s “natural pacemaker” – often undergoes changes that can lead to procedures like the one Simmons underwent. For her, it happened at age 39. For others, it can be later – or even sooner – than that.
“She obviously was not elderly,” Horton said. “She was also not frail. When she was exerting herself, she was fine. But her heart rate at rest became so slow she couldn’t function.”
For folks who repeatedly feel faint, Horton said that can often be a sign of heart issues. Horton told Simmons, a marathon runner, that she could stop exercising and see if that changed anything but he warned her “that usually doesn’t solve the problem.”
Simmons says she’s glad she pushed her initial fears aside and went ahead and got the pacemaker.
“People are always shocked when they find out I have one,” Simmons said. “They see me walking around every day, healthy.”
There is some minor maintenance, such as battery replacement about once a decade and checks to make sure the ledes are functioning properly, as patients such as Simmons age, but typically nothing too serious, Horton said.
“It’s miraculous,” Simmons said of the device. “So much has happened in terms of medical advancements. There’s nothing I can’t do.”