NBC4 anchor Wendy Rieger recovering from open heart surgery

Wendy Rieger is recovering from heart surgery. (Courtesy Wendy Rieger)

An NBC4 journalist who has been on the job in D.C. for decades has been out of the anchor chair in recent weeks — Wendy Rieger is recovering from heart surgery.

Heart disease can strike anyone.

“This is something I could be going through,” said Doreen Gentzler of her colleague of 30 years. “We’re both generally very healthy and fit, and to hear that she was going to have heart surgery was kind of shocking.”

Rieger is currently recovering from open heart surgery that addressed two conditions: An ablation procedure fixed a rapid heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation, or AFib, and a mitral valve that wasn’t sealing properly and had to be repaired.

“Her doctor makes it clear that her future prognosis is excellent,” Gentzler said.

In a conversation the pair had before the surgery, Rieger described to Gentzler that she initially ignored symptoms of the AFib.

“I’d been aware of my heart fluttering a lot,” she said. “I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought, ‘Oh, my heart’s fluttering.’ And, I’d go biking and I’d think, ‘Well, it’s just because I’m on a big bike ride that my heart’s just kind of fluttering.'”

Discussing with a friend, who happened to be a doctor, the fact that her heart was beating at about two times a normal rate raised alarm that finally prompted action.

“He listened to it and he said ‘Oh my god, you’re in AFib … you’ve got to get on blood thinners right now and you’ve got to get to a cardiologist. You could have a stroke,” Rieger recalls being told.

“And I said, ‘I’ve had this for like six months!’ And he’s like, “What!” Rieger exclaimed.

There’s a lesson here for everyone.

“I think her message out of what she’s experienced — don’t ignore symptoms like that,” Gentlzer said. “Listen to your own body, and if something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t be afraid to ask a doctor about it. Don’t be afraid to look into it.”

You can see Rieger’s full story and learn more about the specific conditions that prompted her heart surgery Wednesday night during NBC4’s 4, 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

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