Joan Jahnke Stars in Her Own PBS Healthcare ‘Movie’

Jim Gellar, left, mugs for the camera as he reveals his jeans were designed by Tractor Supply. His wife, Ann, proudly tells ‘Groucho’ that her husband killed the fur stole she’s wearing.

Joan Jahnke peruses the nursing publication Scrubs, which first published the story of her rare heart condition.

In case you weren’t invited, there was a red carpet movie screening in LongCreek Plantation last weekend at the waterfront home of Joan and Fred Jahnke. The faux, fun evening was part of Joan’s continuing effort to raise awareness about a very rare, painful and extremely serious vascular condition that presents as a heart attack (but isn’t), is difficult to diagnose and affects mainly women, including her. The ‘screening’ that evening was a segment from a show that appeared on PBS in December about Joan and her mysterious medical condition.

Since 2005, Joan has valiantly endured what seems like a heart ailment. She repeatedly suffers episodes that feel exactly like heart attacks. While tests continued to tell doctors that she wasn’t having heart attacks, her symptoms were relieved with nitro SL, the same medication that relieves symptoms for heart attack victims. It was not until 2008 that her medical malady was diagnosed at Emory University in Atlanta. The rare condition was identified as Cardiac Endothelial Dysfunction — but even with a name, the condition remains mysterious.

“There is no known cause,” Joan said, “and therefore, no known treatment for cure.”

Joan’s condition is so marked by breathlessness and weakness that she and her husband, Fred, had to install a stair chair in their home. But the high-spirited former nurse didn’t let her limited mobility stop her from spreading the word to help others in her predicament.

Her story first appeared two years ago in the online version of Scrubs, a professional journal for nurses. The focus of the article was not only to make nurses aware of the condition, but to help patients be equally aware, persistent and articulate when they notice symptoms that are consistent with heart disease.

“I started a blog about my experiences at the urging of two of my cardiologists, Dr. Andrew Weisinger at Emory University and Dr. Daniel Bouknight at Columbia Cardiology,” she said. “They encouraged me to spread the word.”

Her blog, which is hosted on MedHelp and can be found by googling “joanincarolina,” has proven a huge success.

“Since 2008,” she said, “women from all over the world have contacted me through the blog looking for help and answers.”

It wasn’t long before her blog even caught the attention of PBS producers who contacted Joan about featuring her story on an episode of the television show Second Opinion. They filmed the segment last summer and it was broadcast last December.  It is also available online at www.secondopinion-tv.org.

“I’ve heard from the staff at PBS that it’s one of their most-watched and commented-on shows!” she said.

As part of their continuing effort to boost women’s awareness of this condition, the Jahnkes decided to host a Hollywood-style screening of the PBS show for their friends and neighbors.

Styled after the Academy Awards, the festivities began with each guest’s star turn along a red carpet leading into the house. Amid flashing paparazzi cameras, they were interviewed by a faux Groucho Marx who was brimming with old-style quips like ‘I went to see a judge about getting married – but I should have seen a jury!’ After a little couture chat with Groucho (Barry Hill), guests traversed a star-tiled Walk of Fame into the dining room where they nibbled on baked brie, decadent chocolate truffles, tiramisu and other culinary delights.

The Jahnke’s lake-view party room was awash in glittering sequins, fur stoles, satin skirts, pencil jeans, bow ties, fedoras and the fabulous dazzle of entirely too much bling. As the movie popcorn and wine flowed, chatter and laughter filled the room. And, at the conclusion of the screening, the golden statue was presented to the star of the film — Joan Jahnke, who wasn’t speechless.

While the event was lots of fun, Joan said she was especially delighted to be able to spread the word about the condition.

“I hope this will create opportunity for our guests to help alert their own friends and family about this disease that is all the more painful if not diagnosed and treated,” Joan said as she mingled merrily among her 40 or so guests.

“While there is no cure for this disease, by knowing what the problem is, some relief and a very fulfilling life is still out there for those of us who suffer from it. “

And Joan Jahnke is living, fun-filled proof of that prognosis.

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