Wilmington, North Carolina
As a kidney patient, I had already adjusted my lifestyle and diet to managing a chronic disease since my early twenties, but did not understand the quiet storm that was brewing when being overweight collided with my genetics. Having complicated genetics, it should have occurred to me that I could get all of the bad with the good - but it didn't. I was the 'perfect storm.'
In Fall 2008, I had an ST Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) with a 98% blockage at a critical location in the left anterior descending artery - otherwise known as the 'widowmaker.' Had I not been under observation in the hospital, I would have been found dead in my bed at home by my then 18 year-old son. As a single mother raising a son with high functioning autism, I shudder to think what 'could have been' for him. Instead, with STEMI protocols in place at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, I was in a catheritization lab in under an hour and had two lifesaving stents placed after angioplasty. I spent a couple of days in ICU and had to cope with bleeding complications, but life was now different as I knew it. I started cardiac rehabilitation in December 2008 and have continued in the graduate program at 5 p.m. every M/W/F, mostly with about a dozen men. Collectively, we call ourselves the 'Five O'Clots.'
Over the years since my heart attack, despite working daily at diet, lifestyle, stress management, medication management and more, Coronary Artery Disease has become my constant companion. New blockages appear every year, and after two more stents in 2009, a single LAD bypass in 2010, and two more blockages recently addressed in the circumflex, angina has become a routine variable to be controlled. I have worked closely with my team of physicians to manage medications and change dosages according to symptoms. At one time, I was taking an estimated 14 different medications daily, sometimes in multiple doses. I am now down to 8, with a few over the counter medications. Still, I have to watch carefully for symptoms that require intervention and my friends and family know my nitro protocols almost as well as I do.
In Fall 2010, I was blessed to be able to participate in the WomenHeart's annual symposium to become trained as a WomenHeart Champion. WomenHeart is the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease and is the nation’s only patient-centered organization supporting women with heart disease. We work all over the U.S. to improve the health and quality of life of women living with or at risk of heart disease, to advocate for their benefit, and to provide emotional support.
Family, friends, work peers, my Heart Sisters, and my health team have all played a part in my path to living well with heart disease. My mission now is to make a difference in YOUR life. Heart disease is the number one killer of men AND women - one in three deaths in the United States. I tell people that if you have a heart, heart disease could be YOUR problem.
What can you do now to make a difference in your life? Learn your risk factors by talking with your family and your doctor, know your numbers, manage your stress, and make an action plan to improve your heart health today. Most importantly, learn the symptoms of a heart attack for men AND women. Call 911 immediately if you believe you might be having a heart attack.
A woman will die every minute in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease. I nearly had my minute. I challenge you to do everything you can to be heart healthy to avoid that minute yourself!!