A Little Christmas Cardiac Reality Check

 

Having passed the 5 year anniversary of my heart attack on October 13 and having turned 48 in November, I was celebrating the fading of the presence of heart disease in my life. Want to know what I got for Christmas this year?  I got a little reality check that I do indeed have heart disease.

Three nights ago I was minding my own business, having settled into bed for the evening when shortly after midnight I was awakened by violent vomiting.  Sweet–I had the really and I mean really nasty gastrointestinal flu that is going around here, or did I? About 3 am after 3 hours of the stomach flu, I started to feel my heart rate racing.  Between bouts of vomiting I hurried and got my blood pressure cuff.  I took my blood pressure and although it was okay–110/75 , my heart rate was a little concerning at a resting 95.  I figured it was just because I was sick and went back to having every bit of liquid exit my body.  At about 5 am, my heart was racing so fast that I was dizzy and couldn’t catch my breath.  Another blood pressure check revealed that my blood pressure was still okay but the lowest heart rate I could get was a resting 130.  At that point the blood pressure cuff makes all kinds of noises and flashes indicating I should probably get my ass to the hospital.

All I can think of is all the stories of nausea and vomiting being an indication of a heart attack and I am trying to determine through my dizziness and shortness of breath if I am having cardiac symptoms caused by the stomach flu or if I am having a heart attack with nausea and vomiting as the symptom.  It is the first time in almost five years that I had felt like I was actually having a second heart attack in my 40’s.  I could hear my early rising husband milling around downstairs so I called him on his cell phone because I was too dizzy just to go downstairs. He didn’t answer but instead yelled up the stairs at me.  I said I have to go to the hospital. He was trying to find my shoes for me and I was just yelling that we have to go right now or call an ambulance. I headed out the door in the cold with no shoes on. I’d rather freeze my feet off than die.

My husband was running stop signs and passing people to get us to the ER and even as I was struggling to breathe, I still managed to tell him how to drive! In my mind I was thinking of my dear friend and heart sister Julie who had just been in an American Heart Association Blog about holiday heart attacks. How did I not see this coming?

We arrived at the ER and somehow mentioning that I am a STEMI survivor, I have 5 stents in my LAD and I can’t breathe got me right in.  It turns out that I was severely dehydrated and that caused the spike in my heart rate which was actually over 140 when I was standing. The 130 was when I was laying down.  After about 6 hours of laying in the ER and my heart rate still being 115, they decided better safe than sorry and admitted me.

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They gave me a total of 5 bags of fluid by yesterday morning. The very nice hospitalist decided that my heart rate had come down enough that I could go home when she came by to see me.

When I got home, it was clear to me that they weren’t 100% convinced it wasn’t a heart attack either.  They handed me about 5 pages of lab tests and results to give to my primary care physician. Right there in the middle were multiple tests run for my cardiac enzymes which measure for myocardial injury. It was a better safe than sorry thing because they were normal but it was nice to see in print that I truly didn’t have a heart attack. Still today I am a little queasy and I probably overdid it a bit today (I’m heading to bed as soon as I publish this) but I’m glad I went to the hospital. Nothing like a scare to bring heart disease back to the forefront of my life!

I always tell people to get to the hospital if they are having cardiac symptoms. I have been twice to the ER for this–once I was having a heart attack and once I wasn’t.  I don’t feel bad about this time when I wasn’t.  It turned out either way that the hospital was really where I needed to be. For those of you that are people who “just don’t go to the doctor”, let me tell you that there are no trophies for the number of times you should have gone to the doctor and didn’t. In fact, it can cost you your life and the only trophies for that are a coffin and broken-hearted friends and family. The number one thing I hear from people and more often from women is, “I would be embarrassed if it was nothing.”  Well, better embarrassed than dead!

Take care of yourselves this holiday season and pay attention to your health!  Here’s to a happy and cardiac event free 2017–cheers!

 

 

 

Five Years Post STEMI

In 11 days on October 13, 2016, I will  mark the five-year anniversary of my STEMI.  Five years since my reality of healthy privilege was shattered.  Honestly, as I was laying in the hospital five years ago, my world as I knew it imploded and I didn’t think I’d actually live another five years.  At the time, the diagnosis of STEMI and heart disease felt like a death sentence.  I was only 42, how was this all possible?

The mistake I made at the time was trying to look five years out and not looking at today for today.  It was the way I was used to living–always living in the future and not stopping for today.  As I started to live one day at a time, heart disease became manageable.  I did the things I needed to do to make sure I lived one more day each day.

As I am farther and farther away from the heart attack, it is less scary and I do less of the things that are good for me.  As a result, I weigh 30 pounds more than I did when I had my heart attack.  It is the last hurdle to really good health.  As the five-year anniversary has approached,  I have realized the importance of coming back into the mindset of doing the things I need to do day by day and not looking at it in a long-term light.  What do I need to do today?  When I do that, the results are immediate.  I am down 5 pounds in the last two weeks.  I have 68 more pounds to go which seems like a lot but not  a lot when you look at each day as its own.

This last year, as you can tell by my limited number of blog posts, I have come to a point in my life where STEMI does not define me.  Being a heart attack survivor defined me in the beginning and that was a good thing.  I took it and spoke publicly on women and heart disease and I shared my story.  I worked with the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women educating  women.  It is important work and I spent a lot of time doing it.  I developed some friendships I will always have with other survivors of heart disease and stroke.  I cherish those.  I honestly can’t imagine what my life would be like without them.

I have educated my friends and family and get Facebook messages often when someone is in the ER. They were having chest pain or jaw pain and thought of me so they sought medical attention.  I want my friends and family to always seek medical attention and I am happy that I am the reason.  Being open about my experience and reminding people at least once a week on Facebook is still important to me. They Go Red with me on National Wear Red Day every year and it is quickly coming up again!

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It is an important mission, it is just not quite as important that I am on the front line of the fight anymore.  I have made changes to my life such as stepping out of the corporate world.  I miss it though.  I find that the five-year anniversary makes me feel like I am going to live.  I find that it is time to re-asses some of the changes I have made and redirect again.  I feel hopeful and feel like although this is something that is still a part of my life, it isn’t going to get me any time soon!  With that feeling I can look forward to growing older and celebrating each birthday.  I never feel bad about getting older, I always feel happy to have the chance to have another birthday.  I get the chance to attend 30 year high school reunions for both Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission South next summer.  I look forward to those things and cherish them.

My friends, take care of yourselves.  Make sure you know the signs and symptoms of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Go to the doctor and know your numbers–cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.  Do this in celebration of the five-year anniversary of my STEMI and do this so that I get to cherish my friendship with you for a long time to come!

Cheers!

Julie’s Battle With Saying Heart Attack

I want to write tonight and tell you the story of my friendship with my heart sister Julie.

In the spring of 2013, I attended the Go Red For Women luncheon put on by the American Heart Association in Kansas City.  I was sitting at a table with new volunteers and I met Julie and her sister Jamie.  After the luncheon, Julie wanted to know more about my story so we talked for sometime and I told her to read my blog.  I asked her about her story and all she could say is she had an event.  Of course, I am thinking to myself what the hell is an event? Being me, I asked outright if she had a heart attack.  She hummed an hoed and said she had a stent.  Still not having an answer to the heart attack question I said heart attack or no?  She responded with a little heart attack.  She also went on to explain that her heart attack was in 2010 and she had never told anyone outside of her immediate family.  What?  This was so foreign to me.  We were so opposite.  Me? I was posting to Facebook from the CCU the day after my STEMI.  I couldn’t believe it and I guess I needed to know that other people couldn’t believe it either.

An odd pairing, Julie and I became fast friends.  We did the Color Run that year:

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We started being concert buddies and our first together was Styx and Foreigner at my favorite venue, Starlight:

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We have done heart walks:

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After this heart walk in 2014, I put together a video and I had to tag her as Heart Disease Survivor instead of Heart Attack Survivor.  She still hadn’t told anyone!  I didn’t say anything though, it wasn’t my place.  I felt like she could do so much education if she would say heart attack in public.  It wasn’t my decision though.

Then, all of a sudden the next fall, she was ready and in American Heart month 2015 she did live local TV!  I cried when I watched her.  The only other person that truly understood how far she had come was probably her sister.  I went to Heart and Stroke Ball with the new-found heart attack survivor and then the 2015 Go Red For Women Luncheon:

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Then, this last fall, she was named a National Spokeswoman for the American Heart Association!  I was so proud of my friend!  I knew if she would just say the words she would have so much to offer and could change the face of heart disease education.  I was right!

AHA-458-Julie Her AHA story here.

Tonight, another moment that made me so proud of my friend.  She sent me a text this afternoon to tell me she would be on the NBC Nightly News (click for video.).
Oh my gosh!  My friend that couldn’t say heart attack in April of 2013 was telling her story to the whole nation tonight!  My heart bursts with happiness for her!

Julie and I were an unlikely pair in the beginning but we were more alike than we knew.  I am forever thankful for my heart attack because it has brought me to women like Julie!  Our friendship continues and we bond over other things like our love of 80’s music–in just a few short weeks we kick off the summer concert season at Starlight with Boston and Paul Simon in the same week!  I know we will have a lifetime friendship and I look forward to it!

As stated on the NBC Nightly News story tonight, silent heart attacks are becoming not so out of the norm and they are deadly!  Heart attack and stroke do not discriminate– please learn the symptoms and never, ever ignore them!

May is American Stroke month.

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In an it’s a really small world news story this week, a post from Strike Out Stroke popped up in my Facebook news feed that proves that heart attacks and stroke do not discriminate.  One of the doctors that worked with a practice I billed for in my former corporate life (My Decision to Leave) had a stroke.  I tell you this because I preach it.  Heart disease and stroke DO NOT discriminate.  It affects nurses who are primary stroke coordinators (See Teri’s Story-Stroke in Her 40’s) and it happens to doctors who are usually the caregivers and not the sick ones in our minds. (See Survivor to throw out first pitch for Strike Out Stroke night at Reds game.) If it can happen to nurses and doctors in their 40’s, it can happen to any of you! As American Stroke Month winds down, know the signs and symptoms and know how to act F.A.S.T.

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Melancholy Reflections on Heart Disease

April 9 marked the one year anniversary of giving my notice to my corporate job and April 23 was the one year anniversary of my last day.  (My Decision to Leave) I have done some melancholy reflection over the last week.  I still feel somewhat sad to have left a job that I worked hard at and was proud of.  On the other hand, my health was suffering with that job.  I’m quite sure that no job is worth that.

There are things I miss about that job. I miss some of the best staff and coworkers  that anyone could have wished for.  I miss the people and the relationships I built with the software clients. There are other things I don’t miss.  I don’t miss the stress of the actual job of managing medical billing and I don’t miss the effects that stress was having on my health.

The Friday before I gave my notice I was sitting at my desk pressing my knuckles into my sternum wondering if I should call an ambulance or because I could see the hospital from my desk would it be quicker to drive myself. I took some deep breaths and the chest pain subsided and I rested until my cardiologist appointment the following Tuesday.  It only took the strong urging from my cardiologist combined with opening a crappy email from my new boss (from the company that bought us out) when I got home to make me type my resignation.  With no plan set in cement, I turned in my resignation sure that if I didn’t it would kill me. I have ended up opening a vintage furniture store part-time and working for a new software company part time.  I really like working for them.

When I walked out of my corporate job on that last day, I did not feel one pang of regret other than the people.  I knew right then and there that I would never go back to that world.  This last year has been an interesting one.  It has brought the end of the grief from losing my pre-heart attack life and an acceptance of my post heart attack life.  I think what has surprised me the most is there is actually a grief process to work through after a life changing medical diagnosis. Not only that, but how long the grief process has taken given my heart attack was 4 1/2 years ago.  Mostly what I think you grieve is the gift of denial.  You grieve the loss of what my heart sister Carolyn Thomas calls in her blog  healthy privilege. (Carolyn blogs at Heart Sisters) No longer is ______ disease (in my case heart disease) something that happens to other people.  I will be 48 this year and saying I have heart disease is still strange.

I had a cardiologist appointment last week and it was so much different from the absolute fear I felt when I saw her last year.  I got very good news this year.  My ejection fraction was 65 and my nuclear medicine stress test showed nothing new.  It only showed the original damage from my STEMI. That is the sweetest news I could hope for.  Last year I cried in her office because I was sure I was going to die and this year I cried in her office because apparently I get the privilege of sticking around a while!

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I No Longer Cry–American Heart Month

Another National Wear Red Day was a huge success.  My friends never disappoint! A record number turned out in red and boy did they look fabulous!  See for yourself!

I have not blogged this February.  I realized it is because I’m not sure I have anything to say about heart disease, heart attacks and heart failure.  I came across this yesterday and it was striking to me:

12744598_10154002478638707_8903841493589121522_nI can tell my story and I no longer cry.  Am I healed? I don’t really know.  What I do know is I no longer have time to let heart disease define me–to let being a heart attack survivor define me.

There is no arguing that experiencing a massive heart attack at 42 was life changing and has had a huge impact on the current incarnation of me. On doctors suggestion, I stepped out of Corporate America and opened my own business, The Vintage Sunflower.  As up-cycling furniture does not make a ton of money, I also work part time at a local software company in the mornings.  Not one thing I am currently doing causes the chest pain of my old job.  My heart attack brought me here and here is exactly where I should be.  Here still includes being a heart attack survivor, it just includes one that doesn’t cry when she tells her story anymore.

So while I will always educate others and tell my story to make sure women know that heart disease is their number one killer, it just won’t define me.

Happy American Heart Month to you–know your risk and know the signs and symptoms of heart attack, heart failure and stroke and call 911 if you have them!  It saved my life and can save yours too!