L i v e Yo u n g e r L o n g e r
Blendu was in her late 20s when her
heart began to race and skip beats. The
problem was atrial fibrillation (A-Fib),
which runs in her family and led to her
father’s fatal stroke, she says.
At first, her heart rate would correct itself.
But over time, it wasn’t able to anymore.
On several occasions, Blendu needed
a procedure that shocks the heart to
restore a normal rhythm.
Despite her A-Fib—and largely because
of it—Blendu took up fitness to keep her
heart in shape. “The choice I made was
to be as physically fit as I could,” she
says. In 2008, she entered her first Half
Ironman, a 70.3-mile swim-bike-run race.
“It’s a huge sense of accomplishment” to
compete, she says.
But her A-Fib—and moreover the
medicines needed to tame her wild heart
rate—made her feel like an underdog.
“It was like I didn’t have a fifth gear,” she
says. She’d tell herself, “If you can just
finish, that’s pretty good.”
Blendu tried to enjoy a normal life. And
she trained when she could. But at times
her symptoms and medication interfered
“There were periods when the beta-
blockers would slow my heart rate to
the point where I could not physically
exercise,” she says.
So she decided to take action. She had
a conventional ablation procedure, which
destroys tissue inside the heart that may
be interfering with the electrical signals
that make the heart beat. But a month
later, her A-Fib returned.
A better solution
When her Boise cardiologist mentioned
the hybrid maze procedure, Blendu was
hopeful. “He did some research and
referred me to Dr. Dunnington, who was
fantastic to work with,” Blendu says.
That’s cardiothoracic surgeon Gan H.
Dunnington, MD. He’s among a small
number of U.S. doctors who perform the
hybrid maze procedure, which has up to
a 95 percent success rate, he says.
It’s called a “maze” because it involves
creating a maze-like pattern of scar lines
on the heart. The maze pattern gives the
electrical signals that make the heart beat
a single, clear path to follow. So they’re
less likely to get jumbled and trigger the
abnormal rhythm of A-Fib.
Jenni Blendu finished her
first marathon in the fall of
2014—a major triumph
for any athlete. But even
more remarkable, Blendu,
42, did it just a few months
after heart surgery.
It was one of many
determined steps Blendu
has taken in a journey
from Boise, Idaho, to the
Adventist Heart Institute in
Napa Valley—and across
new finish lines.