In January of 2006, I was working the overnight shift at a rehab for women when I started feeling the “classic” symptoms of a heart attack. I was 31 years old and thought that I was too young to be having a heart attack, so I ignored those first symptoms. I noticed I was having difficulty breathing, nausea, pain in one of my shoulders, and my mouth was watering excessively. The first symptoms began at around 3 AM, my shift ended at 8 AM and I went straight to the hospital.
When I arrived, I reported to the nurses in the emergency department that I was having a heart attack and told them my symptoms. They said to have a seat and they’d be with me. When the triage nurse called me in, she asked two questions: Why did I think I was having a heart attack and what had I done for drugs the previous night? I grabbed her arm and said, “I worked in a drug rehab all night and you’re going to let me die if you don’t’ do something now!” I was then rushed out back and treated. Later, I was seen by a cardiologist who explained that my cardiac enzymes were off and that I would be transported to another hospital that specialized in the care I needed. I was released two days later, after being pumped with potassium. My diagnosis was a cold in my heart muscle. I was advised to lose weight and change my diet, but nothing was mentioned about smoking.
A year later, I had a stent placed in my LAD after suffering another heart attack. The second time my symptoms presented so differently that I never suspected it. I had been having a pain in my right shoulder for several months. After receiving the stent, the cardiologist told me and my husband, in front of my 10-year old twin daughters, “You know, if you would have quit smoking, you wouldn’t have come back.”
I did quit smoking, it was tough, but I did it. I became an American Heart Association You’re the Cure advocate because I have made it my mission to educate all women in Maine about what they can do to make sure they have healthy hearts and long lives. Part of this is telling my story to policymakers so they make sure they do their part to help women like me get the care they need. Please join me to make a difference.