As most of you know, February is American Heart Month. To kick off the month, the American Heart Association held the 2019 AHA Lobby Day at the Arkansas State Capitol on January 31. I was asked to speak about the importance of advocacy and Tobacco 21. The day included, the Go Red for Women Survivor Gallery Unveiling, which honored women of all ages who have experienced a heart attack, a stroke, a CHD, or another form of heart disease.
thumbnail_alt_text===Abigail and teacher
After I spoke, I sat on the front row and waited for the women to each walk across the rotunda and listened to their stories. The announcer called “Susie Thompson,” and I looked up to see my high school Economics teacher smiling at me. Mrs. Thompson has been teaching at Little Rock Christian Academy for years and happens to be my Future Business Leaders of America sponsor. All that time at school together, I didn't know she was a heart survivor. Heart disease is known as a silent killer for a reason, and so many people live among us that are going through heart problems. I was eager to sit down with Mrs. Thompson and learn more about her story. A few weeks after the unveiling, we sat down at school for a chat.
Mrs. Thompson being featured at the 2019 Go Red for Women Survivor Gallery Unveiling at the Arkansas State Capitol
When did you find out something was wrong?
- I didn’t really have any symptoms, so it was a surprise and total shock to me. I thought I was a super mom and could do it all. I thought that I didn’t need sleep. I had a lot of stress, was exhausted, and was not eating healthy. It was after Thanksgiving break, and it was my second year of teaching. I was up at two or three in the morning and took caffeine pills to stay awake. That is all it took. I took aspirin and was feeling better by the time I got to the emergency room. They later did a blood test and told me that I had a heart attack. The doctors said that they ruled out everything except clogged arteries, and I was able to watch them find out that it was not a problem there either. They said heart attacks have increased lately especially in women.
What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?
- When they said that I did have a heart attack, I felt fortunate that I knew the signs because I felt like my chest was getting tighter and tighter. I knew enough to tell my husband to take me to the emergency room, and I was grateful because my scenario could have had a very different outcome. I did not ignore what I knew about heart attacks. Also, I felt fortunate that I didn't have heart disease and that I can make healthier choices in my daily life to prevent this from happening in the future.
What did you do next?
- Because it was a one time thing, I stayed in bed and rested for a week which was really hard for me, but it helped me get the rest I needed. The doctors gave me beta blockers which helped me relax when I was anxious. I took those for three months.
What is your prognosis now?
- One part of my heart muscle may be a little slower than it was before the heart attack, and it may not be quite back up to speed. Although I am pretty much back to normal, I know that I have recommended limits now.
What is your advice to others?
- You have to realize that you are not superhuman, and it's ok and necessary to say no sometimes. You need to do what you know you should do: get rest, eat well, and slow your pace down. If you can’t keep up with your schedule without having caffeine supplements, then you have to analyze your lifestyle and cut some things out of it. To young people, I started this bad habit in high school. I worked several jobs and was very involved in my school. I started taking caffeine supplements to get things done late at night and then got back into doing it when I was a mother to try and keep up with my kids. You think it is a solution, but it is not a safe solution. My advice for young people is to be aware of what you put in your body. Things like energy drinks and caffeine pills could impact your heart health.
Why should someone get involved with the American Heart Association?
- To help educate people. If I had not seen what the American Heart Association published about the signs of heart attack symptoms like numbness in arm and to take aspirin, my situation would have had a different outcome. With more stories like mine, we can prevent someone from suffering a heart attack. Most people who have heart disease watch out for things, but people who don’t have any symptoms or signs are dying because they are not watching out for it. I am passionate about helping educate others about heart disease to people who were just like me. If something like this happens, they need to remember the signs because seconds and minutes matter. My brother had a heart attack and almost died. He ended up having blockage but was also sleep deprived and drank caffeine to stay awake. All of this triggered him into having a heart attack. He had surgery and was lucky enough to have survived. Using stimulants and not getting enough rest is a very dangerous combination. Protect your body. Know better, do better.
Mrs. Thompson teaching at Little Rock Christian Academy
Mrs. Thompson is an inspiration to not only our school, but to everyone around her. She is right when she says that it could happen to you. It could happen to anyone at any age. Educate yourselves on ways to create a more heart-healthy lifestyle and live it! A special thank you to Mrs. Thompson for being such an inspiration and taking time to share her heart story!
I will continue to advocate for heart health with the American Heart Association for all of the "Mrs. Thompsons" out there. I hope that you will join me by texting HEART to 46839 to add your voice or by following this link: https://www.yourethecure.org/join.
Also, if you are interested in learning more about how to be a member of our Central Arkansas Go Red for Women Survivor Gallery – we are accepting applications now! For more details and an application email Rebecca at Rebecca.Buerkle@heart.org.
Until next time,