On June 17, 2014, while recovering from emergency gall bladder surgery in the hospital, I awoke from the anesthesia to the most excruciating pain that I had ever felt in both of my upper arms. They felt like they were encircled in fire. I immediately began yelling for help. I was so scared. I knew something was dreadfully wrong.
The nurse immediately came over, looked at my EKG and called a cardiologist. Then the left side of my neck and jaw started hurting, and I told the nurse I might throw up. Everyone started asking me questions about my heart. I had no idea what was happening but I knew it was serious. I saw a priest at the foot of my bed. Was he there for me? Was it that serious?
Someone started doing an echocardiogram of my heart and asked me more questions. Then I heard what the doctors were saying as they began to wheel me into the cath lab. They said I would need another surgery. I asked how many, and the doctor said hopefully just one. I asked if I would need anesthesia to which the doctor replied I would be given a local anesthesia.
When we got to the cath lab, I was transferred to a cold, hard table and I could barely see the x-ray monitor to my left. The next thing I remember was the nurse at the head of my bed telling me I had a blockage. I asked him what percentage. He said about 80 percent and that’s when I knew that something was wrong with my heart. Soon after, I began to violently cough up fluid on this operating table. Later, I learned that I was coughing because my heart ejection fraction had dropped to about 15 percent and my heart was barely pumping, so my lungs were filling with fluid. They inserted a stent and a temporary balloon pump into my heart to help it pump better and then I was taken to ICU and put on a CPAP machine to help saturate my lungs with oxygen. I wasn’t told until the next morning that I had suffered a massive heart attack and had not been expected to survive the night. And that is the moment when my life changed.
I did not cry. I did not get depressed. I did not react negatively. From that moment on, all I could do was think positively. I had been given a second chance at life. Things could only get better. I was here for a reason, and I had to make it count. Two days later, my heart ejection fraction was up to about 45 percent, and my doctors were calling it nothing short of a miracle. I was 38 years old.
My heart attack was completely unexpected, but it does run in my dad’s family. I just never thought it could happen to someone my age. I am now learning that heart attacks do not discriminate towards age, race, or gender, but they are the leading cause of death among women, which is something I did not know at the time. Since then, many of my friends have shared their family history or their symptoms with me, and although I’m not a medical professional, I think it helps them to be able to relate to someone else who has gone through this.
After my heart attack, my heart health has become my #1 priority. I completed three months of cardiac rehab, made a complete lifestyle change, changed jobs, cut out almost all dairy from my diet, stopped eating fried foods, limited my daily sodium and fluid intake, eliminated stress, and regularly monitor my weight and blood pressure. As part of my healing and recovery, I have started blogging about my experience as a heart attack survivor and have met other survivors by networking through my blog. I also enjoy sharing my story to help spread the message about women and heart disease as well as volunteering with the American Heart Association. Keeping myself busy and remaining positive about life is what has helped me the most in the healing process. My doctors think that my recovery has been fantastic, and they are pleased with my progress thus far. I hope my progress continues for many years to come!