Local artist Jackie Finn loves animals, sunsets, tattoos and birthdays. But she reserves her biggest smiles for her many best friends.

Between painting, yoga, sports, volunteer activities, running a small business on Etsy and enjoying girls’ weekends at a Lake Michigan cottage, life is good for this 35-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan, resident.

Good. But not perfect.

Like roughly 50% of people with Down syndrome, Jackie has a congenital heart defect. It has required three open-heart surgeries and many hospital stays since her infant years, according to her mother, Tammy Finn.

Although Jackie and her family live in West Michigan, they’ve traveled for years to the Detroit area for her medical treatments.

Until this year.

In late January, heart arrhythmia sent Jackie to a Spectrum Health emergency department via ambulance.

That encounter with medical teams in West Michigan won over their hearts.

“Jackie was experiencing a great deal of anxiety, as she had a heart rate of over 200,” Tammy said. “The ER docs and nurses were very reassuring and professional, which put us at ease.”

Extraordinary care

Jackie’s memories of January are somewhat vague. She can’t recall the ambulance ride to the hospital.

But she does recall the highlights, including the doctor with “nice hair.” And she remembers a visit with a therapy dog.

That doctor with the memorable hair? Spectrum Health cardiologist and electrophysiologist Nagib Chalfoun, MD, FHRS, who now has two of Jackie’s notecards displayed in his office.

“Despite everything she was going through, she still managed to be very smiley and a fun person to be around,” Dr. Chalfoun said. “Jackie has a special way about her.”

Dr. Chalfoun performed a cardioversion on Jackie, which brought her heart back into normal rhythm. Other treatments and changes to her medication improved her heart function.

The medication changes have been a game-changer.

“I notice her demeanor is even better,” Tammy said. “Some of their decisions have had a long-term impact on how Jackie feels.”

Given the treatment Jackie received at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, the family has transferred her care to the Spectrum Health Adult Congenital Heart Center.

“The care was extraordinary,” Tammy said. “We’ve been dealing with cardiac issues since Jackie was a baby, so we have had 35 years of experience. I was just so impressed with the whole team.”

Dr. Chalfoun looks forward to her next visit.

“Jackie is a very pleasant person to be around,” he said. “And it kind of makes your day as a physician when she comes in.”

Jackie’s art focuses primarily on pet portraits and landscapes. Her work has been featured in ArtPrize and it won the Legacy Trust Award Collection competition in 2014, with “Happy Skipper Day,” a painting of a black-and-white dog.

Another painting, “Rock Star,” is part of the permanent collection of the Spectrum Health Foundation.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackie rented space at a local art studio. Today, she does a lot of her painting at the home of the woman she calls her best friend, Becky Jo Spielmaker, one of several helpers Jackie hires through Michigan’s supported employment program.

With help from Spielmaker and others, Jackie runs her own business, Jackie’s Best Art, and sells items featuring her designs.

Until this spring, when the pandemic hit, she also served as an active volunteer with several local organizations and worked out regularly at a local gym.

“She really keeps busy with her staff and working on her goals in the community,” Tammy said. “I never thought she’d be able to have this kind of life.”