Some customers of the beloved Maplewood bakery, The Able Baker, might not even have realized that owner Julie Pauly had been away for a month this summer to attend to a serious health issue.
That’s because her first-rate team — including Pauly’s husband, Thomas, and her kitchen manager and chief pie baker Ellen Gray, not to mention the many kitchen and front of house employees — kept the bakery running without a glitch.
“It’s nice to be back,” said Pauly in a recent interview at Arturo’s. “It was also nice to see it all could run without me.”
Pauly had robotic surgery at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia in early July to repair damage to her heart caused by a genetic defect called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The condition, which affects 1 in 500 people of all genders, ages and ethnicities, is basically an irregularly enlarged heart that obstructs blood flow. Most people don’t even know they have the condition and have few or no symptoms; others find out when a catastrophic cardiac event occurs.
For Pauly, that event happened eight years ago, when she was jogging on a treadmill at a local gym and suddenly felt nauseous. The next thing she knew, she woke up in the cardiac ward of a hospital. Pauly had gone into cardiac arrest and had been revived by paramedics.
Doctors inserted an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which acts similarly to a pacemaker, to keep her heart pumping properly. The ICD along with medications kept the condition in check all these years, until the beginning of 2014, when Pauly started to feel extremely fatigued.
“I couldn’t climb one flight of stairs or walk one block without feeling out of breath,” she said. She would also wake up short of breath, and she began retaining fluid.
She learned that her cardiomyopathy had turned obstructive, which meant surgery was the best option.
During the 7 1/2-hour procedure, doctors used a robotic arm inserted into small incisions in her side to cut away roughly half of the center wall of her heart muscle, Pauly said. She was on a heart-lung bypass machine for two hours of that time.
After spending four days in the hospital, she returned home for weeks of recovery and cardiac rehab exercises.
“My heart feels much better,” said Pauly. “I’m able to walk 2-3 miles a day. Now I realize how unwell I was before. I can go up stairs without any problems, and I have more energy.”
She will still need to be regularly monitored by a cardiologist and is hoping to gradually taper off some of the medications so she can increase her exercise routine.
Pauly was touched by the local community’s response to her ordeal. “The well wishes from customers were tremendous,” she said, noting that people sent flowers, cards and food, and some visited her at home.
She also was gratified to hear from many regulars that the bakery team did such a stellar job of keeping the place running while she was away. In fact, sales actually grew in that period.
Meanwhile, Pauly is glad to be back at the bakery and feels lucky in more ways than one.
“It’s very nice to be a part of a community when something like this happens,” she said.
The Able Baker, 187 Maplewood Ave., Maplewood, 973-313-1133. Regular hours: Tues.-Fri. 7:00-6:00; Saturday 8:00-5:00; Sunday 8:00-2:00; closed Monday (Note: the bakery will be open the week of August 24: Tues–Fri 7:00–12:00 and Sat 8:00–12:00.)