Heart disease and stroke are ever-present threats that touch lives on a daily basis. Never discriminating, these startling conditions can attack anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender. Here, local survivors share their harrowing tales of enduring heart disease and a heart attack. Let their experience educate you and bring you hope.
In 2009, I gave birth to our sweet baby boy, Cooper. I was 29 years old and healthy, so having a heart condition never crossed my mind. After Cooper was born, while we were still in the hospital, I felt like I constantly needed to cough. I had a lot of swelling during my pregnancy, so I just brushed it off.
We left the hospital and went home, excited to start our new journey as a family of three. Like any new parents, Mark and I were exhausted and anxious. I was so tired, but I just figured that was part of having a newborn. After a few days at home, I noticed I was out of breath easily and felt a lot of pressure when I would lay down. I started sleeping sitting up because it was easier to breathe.
Mark encouraged me to call the doctor but again, I was 29 with no health issues, so I tried not to worry too much. He told me that if I didn’t call, he would. So I finally called. I went in to see my doctor, and he checked my pulse. He asked if I had been having heart palpitations and told me my resting pulse rate was very high.
He left the room, and I remember at that moment feeling like something was wrong. He sent me for an echocardiogram (heart sonogram) right then. He called me that night and told me he was going to do everything he could to keep me at home with Cooper and prevent me from being hospitalized.
I saw a cardiologist the next morning and was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy. I had never even heard of it. He started me on various medications, and it was also recommended that we have no more children. I decided that I was going to do everything I could to be healthy and be here to raise our son. Mark and I started eating healthy and exercising daily as soon as I was able, and in the spring of 2012, we completed our first triathlon together. My heart function recovered, and our second son, Cameron, was born in 2013. I still have checkups with my cardiologist and take medication, but I feel great and most importantly, I am healthy. I thank God every day that I am able to be here with my husband and raise our two wonderful boys.
I was invited to the American Heart Association’s Go Red Luncheon in May 2016 by a co-worker who had an extra seat at her table. I was happy to fill in and enjoy a fun break in the middle of my hectic day. While at the luncheon, we heard that heart disease is the number one killer of women. That statistic really made me start thinking about my own health. Having a family history of heart issues, I had always been told to take warning signs seriously; however, with my busy schedule, my health was always the first thing put on the back burner. The message at the luncheon really jarred me, and as soon as I was in the parking lot, I called my mom and admitted I’d been having some slight chest pressure. She encouraged me to make a doctor’s appointment.
A couple of weekends later, prior to my scheduled appointment, my husband and I were hiking, and on the way back, I started feeling extra winded. When we got to the car, I noticed I was sweating more than usual and felt extremely nauseous. This was surprising because it was not a strenuous trail like we are used to hiking. I began to feel pressure in my chest, so I let my husband know what I was feeling. I had communicated to him my concerns before, so he took my warning signs seriously. As we drove away, my chest pains worsened, so he stopped at a gas station for aspirin. We then went straight to the emergency room where they ran tests and kept me overnight for observation. In the morning, the doctor explained that I definitely had a heart attack because my troponin levels had increased dramatically through the night.
That was the first time that the seriousness of the situation hit me. Up to that point, I had never really believed that I could have a heart attack at my age. I was certain that they were going to tell me that it was something else that was causing these symptoms.
I haven’t had any heart episodes since, and I never put my health on the back burner anymore. It’s still surprising to me that I had a heart attack at 36. What’s more surprising to me, as I share my story, is how many other women admit to having warning signs and don’t do anything about it. If there is one message that I can share, it is: Please do not ignore what your body is trying to tell you. If something doesn’t feel right, check it out now and don’t wait until you are forced to take action.