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On Life, Lemons, Low Heart Beat & Thanks to Earl Bakken

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Earl Bakken - co-founder of Medtronic and inventor of the battery powered wearable pacemaker.

While I'd like this post to be all about the farm and new Farmhouse World Kitchen, I must digress into life and it's lemons for a moment. Many of you are aware of the fact that I had a bit of a medical emergency the last few days and so, sent notification that the new restaurant will be closed for sure this weekend (July 28-30) and next (August 4-6) as I recover from a pacemaker implant.

Instead of bringing me joy, the dream to open a restaurant had truly become an overwhelming situation, but not entirely due to the stress that I supposed was the problem. I was feeling a crazy sense of fatigue and inability to breathe. It seemed most logical that these types of symptoms, in connection to someone opening a new business, would be stress related, so I ignored the signs, worked on my breath, tried to get enough sleep, listened to friend's suggestions for meditation podcasts while prepping veggies, but the issue just grew. My mind over matter wasn't working, and I couldn't seem to control the anxious feelings, rapid fluttering heart and need for breath.

A heart problem didn't dawn on me until last Friday, when carrying something up from basement storage I had to stop at the fourth step up to catch my breath and wait until the burning stopped in my legs. I told Bill it was like I had just ran a lap around the track, but had only come up four steps. Again, I disregarded the problem as just part of the exhaustion I was feeling. By Saturday, I was asking my staff to fetch stuff from the basement knowing that it would wipe me out to come all the way up again. The words, "I think I'm going to die!" were uttered a number of times on Saturday as I clutched at my heart hoped the stress would subside. I did start to really tune into the feeling in my heart, but continued to believe it was some demonic stress monster and not something physiological.

All I wanted to do each day was to come home, shower and rest. Ironically, on Saturday morning, my well pump went kaput so I packed a bag of toiletries and clothes and went to Bill's to shower and spend the night there. I told him that all I wanted to do on Sunday was to sit in my chair in the living room and do nothing. I really felt exhausted and overwhelmed and hoped that some rest would help. Sunday I sat, menu planned for this week and ordered some of the food I would need. Every time I got up, I felt like someone thirty years older than my 53 years. I was weak and wobbly and slow to go. William arranged for the well to get fixed Monday and I went to spend the night at his place again as I had no water for drinking or toilet flushing or showering.

I went to bed Sunday night feeling pretty tired but excited about the new menu I had planned for this week, and much more confident that I was getting more efficient in the process of running the restaurant. However, my heart had a different plan. At about 2:30 I awoke with both arms asleep and a profound sense of dizziness and inability to breathe. I tried to get up to get some water, but was too wobbly to make it to the kitchen. I laid back down, reached for my phone and searched "Urgent Care" figuring I should probably get this checked out before heading to the restaurant in the morning to launch the new week. Urgent Care clinics opened at 8:00. I reached to feel my pulse and that was when I knew something was really wrong. There was a long stretch of time when there was no pulse, followed by a jazzy drum beat of discordant flutters, followed again by stillness. I figured it was a weak heart not a stopping heart. Having a bit of background in health related stuff, I thought it was atrial fibrillation, or an irregular heart beat. Whatever it was, I knew I was feeling very bad and that it was not my normal. I laid there for another minute contemplating the inconvenience of it all when an inner voice started to chant "emergency room, emergency room, emergency room!" I listened, got up, jiggled William to get up and get dressed quickly because I needed to go the the ER. Mr. Man, normally full of a million questions, got up, got dressed and out the door we went with the bag of toiletries and a change of clothes I had packed because my well pump had gone kaput the day before.

We got to the quiet Sunday night emergency room in Red Wing and within a few minutes they had me hooked to a heart monitor where we could see clearly that my heart rate was jumping all over the place including intermittently "pausing" for a few seconds at at time and staying low in the 28-40 beats per minute. Of course this caused concern, so I was rigged up with resuscitation defibrillator pads in case they needed to revive me. Boy, is that a wake up call that something is indeed not quite right! The ER doctor quickly left the room to begin a phone consult with the cardiac docs in Mayo Rochester and decided I needed to get to that better-equipped facility ASAP. William was watching my monitor reporting the numbers, and it was then that I realized that I have been dealing with this issue for years! The sensation in my body when the heartbeat stopped or slowed was not a new sensation, but something I can recall happening intermittently especially over the last 15 years and nearly every day for the last two months! I always chalked it up to stress, and it always fixed itself. I knew that the heartbeat had an occasional flutter, but had no idea that it also occasionally stopped!

I got a siren's blaring speedy delivery to Rochester where over the next 30 hours I received the royal treatment of heart care. Why I need the pacemaker is not yet clear, but the fact that I need one was quickly determined. They ruled out Covid and Lyme, took blood for every other thing under the sun they could think of that might have caused this, discussed family history and marveled at what great shape I am in outside of this heart issue.

At one point I was going to be headed out for an MRI to see if that might shed some light on the why of this problem, but the heart didn't want to have anything to do with me laying in a tube losing precious time, so it shut off for 13 seconds causing a massive team of adults into my room to resuscitate only to find me carrying on a conversation with my sweet nurse, Kendall! The MRI was cancelled and I moved up the list to receive a pacemaker just a couple hours later.

It was in those moments when the heart stopped that all the other moments in my life when that same thing had happened came flashing back to me. If we only had a better ability to understand our "6th sense" there are things in life I would have understood much earlier. I had a friend in 7th-8th grade who had tachycardia, and when she explained what it was, I thought perhaps I had it too. Of course, an occasional weird thump in the heart didn't seem to merit being accused of crying wolf, so I never brought it to my parent's attention. Later in life, when the heart would skip and jump, or I had difficulty getting enough air, I rationalized it as some sort of stress. Even on the way to the ER, I figured they would find nothing wrong and I would be told it was all in my head. My son Max participated in many activities at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis. The founder of Medtronic, Earl Bakken, devised the battery powered pacemaker, a fact that always seemed particularly important to me every time I saw Earl at Bakken events where Max was working and participating. Again, I never really said anything about this sensation as its a bit unexplainable. Nevertheless, now, in hindsight, it makes sense to me. I guess there is something to be said about knowing your body and feeling confident enough to reach out for help.

So, here I am on a forced break and very happy for it, actually. I do think that having that restaurant is my life's dream, but I sorely need to rest and revive all the positive energy I had for the concept. Every sweet face I looked into while listening to compliments on the food, or congratulations were met with an outward smile, but an internal sense of dread and uncertainty. I felt like the restaurant was killing me. Once I recover and get back to work, I hope that with my normal ambition and vigor, that sense of dread will be replaced with confidence and joy.

One thing is certain, through this experience I have come to understand that my inner voice is clear and loud, and I intend to listen to it with confidence from now on rather than shrugging it off as something other, irrational or unexplainable.

On the way out of the hospital yesterday, a man on the elevator asked if I had a pacemaker put in? I replied that I had. He told me that his father had his first pacemaker put in when he was about my age, and every time he got his renewed, he'd tell everyone that he felt twenty years younger! I'm hoping this new bionic heart makes me feel like a Wonder Woman of 33!

Thanks to everyone for the outpouring of love and concern. I am confident that I will be back stronger than ever in a week or so. We have everything we need to keep on and carry on, so all I ask is that you throw some healing love out to the universe with my name on it.

Sending love from a steady heartbeat here in Fransconsin!


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Ok…sending you love and strength from all of us! And I did notice Saturday- but, just figured it was all of the responsibility from the restaurant. YOU. ARE. AMAZING! Sarah. Heal my friend and if you need anything please let me know. All of that and you still wrote your blog beautifully! 😏


Jul 28, 2022

Amazing story. So so glad you finally listened to your inner voice and knew something big was wrong. All us hungry people will wait for your return. Wishing you a very speedy recovery. (By the way, you are the third person I know in the past two months to have had a pacemaker put in and within a few days, the other two folks were feeling great. Hope the same is for you sweet Sarah). See you soon.

Sarah Brenner
Sarah Brenner
Jul 28, 2022
Replying to

I'm looking forward to feeling great again! Sort of crazy to know three people in such short time getting there something afoot?


Oh, Sarah--we live in a world of miracles and you're going to be OK! Please take the time you need to recover and recharge and know that you've got plenty of folks waiting in line to hear from you that all's well in Sarah-land once more!!💓

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