A 63-year-old woman had a heart attack. Her advice could save your life.
A woman who had a heart attack shares her story and advice, along with tips from a cardiologist, for better heart health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person dies from cardiovascular disease every 34 seconds in the United States. This means that each one of us must be aware of our heart health to ensure we don't become another.
I believe that everyone should be aware of their overall health. Obesity, diabetes, and other medical conditions can all lead to strokes, heart attacks, and other serious illnesses.
A few months prior to my 63rd Birthday, just after Thanksgiving 2021, I was waiting at an intersection in suburban Philadelphia when I felt a tingling sensation down my left arm. It was so strange that I called a friend to ask him if it was a sign of a heart attack.
After a while, we talked about it briefly but my attention was quickly diverted to my errands. A few weeks later, just before the December holidays, we were having lunch together and I developed severe heartburn.
At the same time, I received my COVID-19 booster shots. Over the next few weeks I began to feel what I believed were flulike symptoms, including nausea, cold sweats and fatigue.
I ignored the warning signs
The CDC states that heart attack symptoms can include chest pain, discomfort, shortness or discomfort in the jaw or neck, arm or shoulder pain, unusually tired feeling, and lightheadedness. These warning signs are not uncommon.
It was a very busy time for me. A close relative had to be admitted after having spinal surgery. I was very busy.
I ignored all warning signs and became nauseous after a night at the theatre with a friend in January. She took me to the nearest hospital.
According to the CDC, one out of five deaths each year is due to a heart attack. This is a staggering 697,000 people. I was dangerously close to becoming one of them. All of this made me feel completely blindsided.
Both my parents have heart disease history. My father, who was in his 40s, died from a second heart attack at the age of 57. My mother suffered major heart surgery later in her life.
However, I didn't know how important it is to see a cardiologist and my internist did not recommend any pre-tests. Heart disease is the leading cause for death in women, which I also didn't know.
Fear set in when I arrived at Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia. My friend could not stay with me because of COVID restrictions. Everything in the ER triage unit went quickly.
An electrocardiogram showed that one of my arteries had 99% blockage and that there were additional blockages. Within 20 minutes, I was done with a series of tests and had my operation.
As I lay on the cardiac catheterization laboratory's cold operating table, shivering in a medicated fog, all I could think about was praying that God and the doctors would keep me alive.
I can still recall saying aloud, "I am not done." Adam needs my care. There are so many more adventures to be shared. I had three stents in my heart's arteries. I was also told that I needed to make significant changes in my life to avoid future heart attacks.
Life after my heart attack
Although I received excellent care from my doctors and nurses, it was still scary to go home. According to medical professionals, everyone deals with fear and depression in a different way. It is important to remember that worrying does not mean I am unable to make heart-healthy decisions in all aspects of my life.
It was very sad that I missed my 16th birthday. The nurses kept reminding me that Adam would be there to celebrate his 17th birthday...and other birthdays.
I am aware that I am often the caregiver. After leaving the hospital feeling weak and vulnerable, I would need the support of my friends and family to regain my strength.
My 64th birthday is a little over a year after my heart attack. As I continue my journey to recovery, I view my heart attack and subsequent life changes as a wake-up call. Every day, I strive to maintain a healthy mindset, diet, stress level and exercise routine. To keep thriving, I do this.
My cardiologist Dr. Kevin Steinberg told me during my six-month checkup that my test results showed that my heart muscle function had returned to 100%. This is a gift I don't take lightly. However, I was fortunate to have acted quickly after the heart attack and only a few minutes from a top-rated heart hospital.
Many positive changes have occurred since my heart attack. I completed a guided meditation class with breathing exercises. I completed and attended cardiac rehab classes. I also checked my blood sugar every day without fail, kept track of everything I ate, and practiced portion control. I was able to lose 27 pounds and keep it off, but that's not all.
Dr. Steinberg taught me that heart disease is not just a problem you can control. He advised me to exercise regularly, quit smoking and eat healthy food every day. The other part of the equation you cannot control is your genetics.
He encourages his patients with obesity and cardiology to take small steps towards a healthier life.
I still care for my son. I love looking after my children, sister, friends, and neighbors. However, I have also learned to first put on my oxygen mask and then secure the child's. Every day is a precious gift that I cherish and I don't want to take it for granted.
A cardiologist shares 7 tips for heart health
These tips were provided by Dr. Kevin Steinberg (clinical assistant professor of medicine, University of Pennsylvania Health System, Pennsylvania Hospital Interventional Cardiology).
Make healthy changes for your heart and keep them going. Listen to your body. Only you can tell when something isn't right. Even the mildest symptoms should not be ignored. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns. Exercise should be a part of your daily life. You should do moderate-intensity cardio five days a semaine and weight-bearing exercises twice weekly. Healthy eating habits are key to heart health. The Mediterranean Diet is a great way to start. Keep a healthy weight. Get weight loss assistance if you need it. Heart disease risk factors include high blood pressure, poor cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and overweight. Regular visits to your healthcare provider are recommended.
Debra Wallace, a multi-award winning professional journalist, author and editor, as well as a social media/web content provider and advocate for autism, has more than 20 years of experience. She contributes regularly to Parade.com and South Jersey, Monsters & Critics. Delaware Today and many other digital and print publications. Her expertise includes entertainment, celebrity profiles, entertainment, local heroes and special needs parenting. Wallace is a dedicated single mother to Adam, her 17-year old son.