Annette Swindin

Annette Swindin The spring of 2005 was supposed to be one of the best seasons of Annette Swindin’s life. With her daughter graduating high school in May, Annette found herself putting extra time and energy into preparing to celebrate with her new grad before sending her off to her freshman year of college.

Formerly very active, Annette found herself giving up her routine exercise time to add the final few touches to her daughter’s graduation party – soon after she found she was having trouble breathing and a hard time catching her breath.

After convincing herself that her recent breathlessness was a product of her decreased cardio activities, Annette waited until after graduation season was over to address the changes in her breathing. When she did, she received a surprise.

After visiting Aultman’s Immediate Care, she was given a chest x-ray. Her doctor returned to the room in a flurry and instructed Annette that she needed to go to Aultman’s Emergency Room immediately. At the hospital, Annette was given a few more tests and was initially told that she had a tumor in her lungs.

After meeting with Dr. Schmotzer, her oncologist, and running a few more tests, it was discovered that Annette had a tumor the size of a grapefruit located just outside of her lungs that was intertwined with the major arteries of her heart.

After receiving this diagnosis, Annette was determined to beat her cancer. She had lost her first husband, her daughter’s father, to cancer in 1995. She did not want to put her daughter through a similar loss.

With her resolve in place, she worked with Dr. Schmotzer on getting entered into a new medical study that the Aultman Cancer Center was participating in. Instead of the typical 9 months of chemotherapy that is recommended for this type of cancer, Annette was given 3 months of aggressive chemo followed by radiation treatment.

During this time she lost her hair, but one year later – during the spring of 2006 – Annette was on the road to recovery.

“You think you’ll get done with chemo and then bounce right back,” Annette said, “but that’s not how it happened.”

To help get herself back into her typical active routine, Annette began walking once her treatment was complete. During this time she began to notice a heaviness in her chest which she mentioned in a follow up appointment with Dr. Schmotzer.

He ordered a stress test which revealed another hurdle for Annette to overcome. Because of the placement of her tumor and the aggressive chemo that helped her to win her fight against cancer, Annette had suffered significant damage to the arteries of her heart.

Over the following months, Annette had a few stints put in to help alleviate the damage, but time after time they were ineffective. In early 2008, Annette was sent to the Cleveland Clinic to have yet another stint placed.

A few months later, Annette awoke one night feeling as though she was being choked. After yet another trip to the emergency room and another battery of tests, she received the news that she would need to undergo triple bypass surgery.

Because of the blood thinners she was taking after her previous stints were placed, Annette needed to stay in the hospital for ten days pre-surgery to prepare for the procedure. During this time she was given a copy of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn’s book “Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” which outlines the ways a plant-based diet can help to stop the progression of heart disease and also reverse its effects.

After a successful triple bypass, Annette made the switch to a vegan lifestyle and never looked back.

In recent years, Annette has slowly but surely been spreading the word about how important it is to protect the health of your heart and the benefits of a plant-based diet. With the help of Adene Keller, a nurse from Aultman’s Cardiac Rehab program, Annette became a volunteer advocating to current heart patients about the importance of committing to cardiac rehab. She was also given the opportunity to develop a vegan cooking class as part of Adene Keller’s vegan diet support group.

It is small, personal touches, as well as the educational opportunities that Annette herself is now able to help provide to patients, that she believes differentiates the care she received at Aultman from other hospitals.

“When I was at Cleveland Clinic, I felt like I was in a factory – like I was just a number. I never felt anything like that while I was receiving care at Aultman.”

Through her vegan cooking classes and the catering activities that she runs out of her home, the previous vegan cooking demonstrations she’s given in her daughter’s elementary classroom and her dedicated work on the Aultman Women’s Board, Annette is slowly but surely getting the word out and doing her part to lead our community to improved health.

“It’s amazing how something so negative has turned into a positive,” Annette said. “It’s given me a purpose for my life.”