History Teacher Amy Thornhill undergoes heart surgery over the summer


Leigh Ann Barnett

History teacher Amy Thornhill marks directions on the whiteboard during a Modern U.S. history class.

Social Studies teacher Amy Thornhill no longer has to worry about fainting at any moment after undergoing heart surgery over the summer.

“A few years back I went through some testing trying to figure out why I was passing out and nothing ever came back. The doctors just knew I had these episodes once twice a year,” Thornhill said. “I noticed it started happening more frequently when I was really sick or if I was having pain. Over the years, I’d become really laissez faire about it, and I tended to get really annoyed when it would happen.”

Over the summer, after hurting her back, Thornhill had another episode during the middle of the night.

“I got up get some more medicine for my back and I ended up having an episode. I knew I was going to pass out so I called for my husband,” Thornhill said. “When I woke up, I felt sick, so he called the ambulance and when they got to my house, they immediately hooked me up to a heart monitor.”

When the paramedics sat her up, Thornhill passed out again while  hooked up to the heart monitor.

“When I woke up, they told me my heart had stopped for 27 seconds,” Thornhill said. “I was shocked in disbelief.”

The ambulance drove her to the ER where she was admitted immediately.

“The ER doctor said that it was like finding a unicorn, because people who pass out infrequently rarely have an episode while hooked up to a heart monitor,” Thornhill said. “People who have one or two episodes a year tend to never catch what is causing them.”

Doctors determined that whenever Thornhill had one of her episodes, her heart was stopping.

“Something was causing the electrical system in my heart to stop beating and if they wouldn’t have caught it on tape, they may not have put a pacemaker in,” Thornhill said.

The surgery did not run as smoothly as Thornhill and her family would have hoped; one of the leads, wires that are screwed into the pacemaker to deliver energy to the heart, came out the first night home from surgery. However, after another surgery to re implement the lead Thornhill is healthy and thankful for the solution to her problem.

“It’s just one of those moments when you realize life is short. We are very thankful that we now know what is going on and there was something we could do about it.” Thornhill said.

While Thornhill and her husband were in the hospital, her three children stayed were with her parents.

“It was in the middle of the night so I was very happy that my inlaws lived nearby to over to watch my kids,” Thornhill said.

When she came back from the hospital, her children had to adjust to what she could and could not do while recovering.

It’s just one of those moments when you realize life is short. We are very thankful that we now know what is going on and there was something we could do about it.”

— Amy Thornhill

“It was a challenge, I’m very active with my kids and I had to wear a sling,” Thornhill said. “They were scared at first, but they were great.”

Since Thornhill’s episodes and surgery took place over the summer, she was able to have a more peaceful recovery.

“I am so thankful that it happened out of school, I couldn’t imagine if it would have happened during the school year. Making sub plans would have been crazy,” Thornhill said. “This happening in the summer was a blessing in disguise, I was able to recover and not miss any work or have a long term sub.”

Though the surgery did not affect her work, her condition affects all areas of her life, including her job as a teacher.

“Usually, I’d have to go through the whole process of telling them I might randomly pass out; it did happen once or twice last year,” Thornhill said. “I didn’t do that this year for the first time in a long time.”

With the surgery and recovering behind her, Thornhill has had time to reflect on her journey.

“I think the big picture is that I am lucky that nothing more serious had happened all those years ago and I feel fortunate to have some answers. Everyone needs to live life in the moment because it is precious.”