Julia Stover has shown strength, focus, patience, and perseverance as both a state and national amateur archery champion.
She’s needed the same qualities to overcome a host of heart and other medical challenges, as well.
Julia developed heart damage as a result of cancer treatments she had in her early 20s. In her mid-30s, she experienced a heart attack.
Thankfully, it happened at work, not at an archery range in the middle of nowhere. Julia’s boss took her to the hospital. She was treated and made a good recovery.
“It was bad, but it wasn’t that bad,” Julia says. “I mean, I bounced back and everything was OK for a while.”
A few years later, during a trip to Disney World with her husband Steve, Julia became severely short of breath.
“It was like it just hit and she went south real quick,” Steve says.
Back home in Peoria, Julia began a long series of tests and treatments and ultimately was diagnosed with heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
Julia received a pacemaker at her local hospital, “but that didn’t go well,” she says. She was transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where she met cardiologist and heart failure specialist KellyAnn Light-McGroary, MD.
“My first day at the hospital, KellyAnn sat down with me and said ‘Everything is going to be OK.’ And she was right,” Julia says.
At the UI, Julia underwent open-heart surgery to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help the heart pump blood to the rest of the body. Later, she had another LVAD implanted to replace the first device. Blood clotting was a recurring issue with both pumps, and she developed bleeding in the brain a couple of months after her second LVAD implant, triggered by the blood thinners she was taking.
Through it all, Julia—who is known among friends and family for her energy and outgoing personality—tried to maintain a positive outlook and keep up her regular routines even as she recovered. She returned to her work as a mechanical engineer just days after being released from the hospital after both LVAD surgeries, and continued to go to the archery range—whenever her health would allow it.
Looking back, it was “tough to keep coming back after getting knocked down,” Julia admits. In Steve’s words, “She was the poster child for ‘whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.’”
In November 2011, Julia received a heart transplant. That procedure, too, came with complications—Julia had a stroke.
“When I woke up, I couldn’t move anything on my right side. It was probably a week before I finally got a little movement out of my leg,” she says.
Thankfully, Julia has made remarkable progress over the past year. She’s still involved in rehabilitation therapy, but she’s nearly fully recovered in terms of movement and strength. She’s also back to doing the things she loves—working, traveling and taking hiking trips with her husband, and regaining and maintaining her competitive archery skills.
“The guys at the range call her ‘Iron Woman,’ because she just keeps bouncing back,” Steve says. “It’s a fitting term for her—that’s just the way she is.”
In spite of having gone through three major surgeries in the past year and a range of complications, Julia is quick to point out that “heart disease doesn’t mean the end of everything.”
“You can still do the things you enjoy and go where you want to go—whether it’s with a pump or after a transplant,” she says. “The journey can be a little tough, but my quality of life is now really good. You just keep plugging away.”
University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center is the proud Eastern Iowa sponsor of the American Heart Association.