Heart disease is the number one killer of women, more than all forms of cancer combined. A year ago, I had a heart attack and almost became one of those statistics. I would like to share what happened that day and how my life has changed.
On Saturday, February 11, 2012, I woke up at 3:00 a.m. with chest pain. I didn’t take it too seriously because I had already been sick for a week. I thought I had bronchitis but found out later I actually had pneumonia. I took some pain medicine and went back to bed. I woke up again at 7:00 a.m. and the chest pain was worse. I also felt clammy and nauseous and my jaw was hurting. I remember having this feeling like something was really wrong but I didn’t know what. I still thought the chest pain was related to my “bronchitis,” so I decided I should go to the emergency room to get a breathing treatment. I had my mother drop me off at the emergency room entrance and she decided to wait in the car until I was done.
It took everything in me to walk up to the reception desk and tell the lady I was having chest pain. They immediately took me back and did an EKG (a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of your heart). Right after that, they put me in a room and started giving me baby aspirin and nitroglycerin. Someone asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad is your chest pain?” “8”, I said. Then a nurse told me, “You’re having a heart attack and we’re going to Life Flight you downtown because we don’t have a cath lab here.” I didn’t believe her. A heart attack? I’m too young to have a heart attack, but I did. I couldn’t be having a heart attack. I was only 47 years old. I had bronchitis!
I remembered my mom was waiting for me in the car and asked if someone could go get her. A few minutes later, I saw her in the doorway and wanted to wave at her to let her know everything was okay. That’s the last thing I remember. Later, my mom told me my eyes rolled back in my head and I slumped backwards. Right at that moment, my heart went into ventricular fibrillation. It stopped pumping and was just quivering. They had to defibrillate me three times to get it working again. Then I was flown by helicopter to another hospital where they did a heart catheterization and found a 95% blockage in my right coronary artery, so they inserted a stent.
It was less than an hour from the time I got to the emergency room to the time I went into cardiac arrest. The doctor told me later that if I wasn’t in the emergency room when it happened, I would have died. If I had gone to the hospital the first time I woke up with the chest pain, it might not have happened at all.
They say that sometimes you don’t really learn how to live until you learn you can die. That’s what happened to me. After my heart attack, I decided I was going to do as much living as I could before I died. I started doing the things I needed to do to change my lifestyle. I quit smoking and started making healthier choices in my diet. I did 12 weeks of cardiac rehab, which was a huge help in establishing a foundation of regular exercise. I took a 10-week course called The Mind-Body Program and learned how the mind and emotions play just as important a role in our health as the food we eat and how much exercise we get. I learned that having love and intimacy in your life is the most important thing you can do to benefit your health. I started going to a twelve-step group to deal with addiction issues and to be a part of a spiritual community. I began seeing a psychologist to help me with my insecurities and self-esteem.
Today, I am happier than I have ever been. I’ve lost 60 pounds through eating healthy and exercising regularly. I have a lot of people in my life now who support and care about me. I’m working through my spiritual and psychological issues. I wish it wouldn’t have taken a heart attack to motivate me to make these changes in my life. If you are not happy with your life, I hope you won’t wait like I did for a near death experience to make the changes you want to make. Find people to support you and do what you need to do to make your life what you want it to be. I’m living proof that it can be done.
If you would like to read more about my heart attack story and ongoing quest to live the fullest life I can, please visit my blog, Never to Late to Live
Florida Blue members – You can monitor your “heart stressors” by using Health Trackers at floridablue.com under Health & Wellness when you log in. You can track you cholesterol, diet, exercise, stress and other factors that may indicate your risk for a heart attack. And, if you want to learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack before it’s too late, call our 24-hour nurseline at 1-877-789-2583.