Women these days lead very busy lives. Constantly moving from one task to the next and often caring for others means tiredness is inevitable.
So, when Sharon Ledford began feeling exhausted at seemingly random times, she dismissed it as part of life. What was really taking place, however, was a series of smaller heart attacks that were leading up to an even bigger cardiovascular event. What follows is Sharon’s personal story and a first-hand account of why you should always take signs and symptoms seriously.
It was a beautiful spring day. I had been working around the pool and in the yard.
I realized I did not have the strength to get the shovel into the ground to dig up a plant. I had pain in both arms and shoulders, pain radiating up my neck and jaw. I thought I had done too much and stressed my body. This type of experience was happening quite often lately. I would be full of energy one day and tired the next. There were times I would look in the mirror and think I looked pale. Some days I was simply pushing myself.
Less than a week later, I was awakened with nausea and cold sweats. I got up and went to the bathroom; barely able to stand, I laid on the cold tile floor. Once I was able, I got back in bed and fell asleep. The next morning, I called my son and told him I didn’t think I could watch my grandson and that I thought I had a stomach bug. As the morning progressed, I started feeling better. I had an appointment for a yearly physical. I decided to go in. This is when my mind began to piece together the symptoms I had been experiencing. It was slowly making sense.
I asked my doctor to check my troponin level (these are levels that show heart injury), administer an EKG, and check my carotid arteries. I knew to ask for these tests due to my husband’s issues. Everything looked good. My doctor ordered a stress test for the following week. Less than three hours later, I started feeling bad. I checked my blood pressure. It was high. I called my doctor and told her. She said my troponin level results would not be back until the following week due to the long Memorial Day weekend. She urged me to go to the ER. I kept thinking to myself, this is not happening.
When I arrived at the emergency room, I walked up to the desk and told them I was having chest pain. I remember thinking to myself, “Really Sharon? Are you really?” This is typical for women to doubt and somewhat feel guilty for complaining. They immediately did an EKG which was now abnormal and drew a troponin level that indicated I was experiencing a heart attack. I called my family. I was transferred by ambulance downtown to the main campus cardiac catheterization lab. The results indicated five blockages. They scheduled open-heart bypass surgery. The doctor told my children that if I had not gotten to the hospital when I did that I would not have survived. He told them that I had experienced a few small heart attacks previously but that my heart muscle was not damaged.
As I look back and reflect, I can pinpoint the times I was experiencing cardiovascular events. The doctor told my children, “Your mom won’t know how bad she felt until she realizes how good she feels.” This was so true! Most women are caregivers and always put everything before their needs.
Conditions with the heart are a combination of genetics, lifestyle, and life events. You need to be aware of your body, know your numbers, and be mindful of symptoms. Do not dismiss yourself.
I am so grateful to be alive!
The American Heart Association is dedicated to building healthy lives, free of cardiovascular disease and stroke, through education, caregiver support, research, and development of healthcare professionals. Go Red for Women is a social initiative designed to empower women to take charge of their heart health by equipping them with the knowledge necessary to lead healthy lives with healthy hearts.