When it comes to heart disease, there is no discrimination. Regardless of lifestyle, race, or age, heart disease can manifest in anyone. Channing Muller knows this all too well, as she had a heart attack at age 26 while training for a half-marathon. What follows is her personal story and a first-hand account of why you should always take signs and symptoms seriously.
I am not the traditional face of heart disease, yet here I am. In 2011, I woke up after a night of revelry feeling a little worse for wear, but nothing a good sweat session couldn’t fix. I took one step away from my bed, and everything changed in an instant. My heart started racing uncontrollably, and I felt like I needed to vomit.
I broke out into a sweat, lost all color in my face, and all the while, my heart kept racing like I had just finished a marathon, yet I’d only taken 10 steps to the bathroom. After a few failed attempts to release my stomach contents and find a way to get physically comfortable, I started to get scared. As my heart raced, my breathing became irregular, and I knew something was truly wrong. I crawled to the nightstand and called my roommate on the second floor, as shouting from the basement would have been impossible.
She helped me up the stairs, and we headed to a hospital just five blocks away. After 45 minutes of a racing heart, multiple EKGs, and two rounds of blood work, the doctors had a diagnosis: I had experienced a heart attack … at age 26.
After that, I was airlifted to a cardiac care unit at another hospital where I remained for three days of extensive testing before being transferred to a regular hospital room for another three days. The resulting tests showed a 70% blockage in my heart, despite low cholesterol, an active lifestyle, and no indicators as to the origin of the blockage. Due to my age, the doctors chose to take a medicinal route of treatment, and I was sent home to recover with regular cardiologist appointments in my future.
One month later on January 17, 2012 – the day I had planned to start cardiac rehab – I got that racing heart feeling again. Thankfully, my medication kept my heart rate from getting as out of control as it did the first time, so while I did indeed experience a second heart attack, it wasn’t as painful as the first. Nonetheless, I remained in the hospital for another four days. The result: The blockage had worsened to nearly 90%, and a stent had to be placed to keep the artery open and prevent further complications.
I did finally go to cardiac rehab, where I became known as “the girl who runs,” aptly encapsulating my singular goal when I arrived: to run again. One year later, my cardiologist confirmed that all the damage to my heart from the two incidents had repaired itself, and other than the placement of my stent, no physical evidence remains. Today, nearly 10 years later, I proudly identify as a heart attack survivor and half-marathoner.