Okay… serious topic time. February is Heart Health month. So let’s talk about it.
Heart health is important to me… if you look at the picture above it is my Dad’s side of the family in the 80’s. My grandfather had a triple bypass and then a stent put in. My cousin, Lindsay (the beautiful bride), had a heart attack caused by SCAD which she survived two years ago. Pictured below is my maternal grandfather who died of a heart attack when he was 75. My father-in-law also had a stent and triple bypass surgery a few years back. And, most recently, I lost my brother, my best friend, this Fall to a heart attack at the age of 46. That’s 5 family members, 5. This is important.
Below are the CDC’s statistic on heart disease. You can read more facts from them here.
Heart Disease in the United States
About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.1
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.1
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is the most common type of heart disease, killing over 370,000 people annually.1
Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.2
As per the American Heart Association the common symptoms of a heart attack are:
Heart Attack Symptoms
Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
DISCOMFORT IN OTHER AREAS OF THE UPPER BODY
Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
SHORTNESS OF BREATH
with or without chest discomfort.
may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD Heart Attack is rare but responsible for 40% of heart attacks in women under 50. My cousin Lindsay was kind enough to write about her experience so I could share with all of you.
“February is American Heart Month. As a very lucky heart attack survivor, I feel compelled to share my story and educate others about a very unusual heart attack called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD.
On November 23, 2016, the day before Thanksgiving, I wanted to sneak in one great boot camp exercise class before the big holiday. I was 51, mother of three boys, very healthy, exercised daily and had no health problems. During the warm up of my class, I felt a sudden pain and pressure in the center of my chest that really made me stop in my tracks. I figured it was a cramp, so I took a sip of water and went back to the warm up. It happened again and again. After three attempts and continued pain, I thought I better stop. I told the teacher I didn’t feel well and went to my car. I don’t know why, but I had this horrible feeling I was having a heart attack. Something just didn’t feel normal. Before I started my car, I googled “signs of a heart attack in a woman” – and number one was pain and pressure in your chest. I thought “I can’t be having a heart attack!” but also, “I’m crazy not to call my doctor”.
I was able to get an immediate appointment with my doctor. At first she thought it might be an infection or sore muscles from class, but she ordered an EKG “just in case”. The EKG was abnormal. She then conferred with my cardiologist, who was also a personal friend, (I already had a cardiologist because of an irregular heart beat which has nothing to do with SCAD) and they both still thought it was an infection. My doctor then ordered a blood test – I had no idea that a blood test can show signs of a heart attack. She would have the results in two hours and would call me at home. I hadn’t even left the doctor’s office when my cardiologist called my cell phone and said “I don’t feel good about this. I want you to go straight to the ER. Can you drive or do you want me to call an ambulance?” OMG, I hadn’t even called my husband yet! I didn’t want to worry him unnecessarily!
This sounds crazy, but I drove myself to the ER. The crazy part is that I didn’t have terrible pain in my chest, nor did I have other signs of a typical heart attack such as rapid heartbeat, fluttery feeling in my chest, pain in my arms, shoulders or jaw. But I just knew something wasn’t normal with my body, and thank god I listened! I called my poor husband, he met me at the ER, and they whisked me in. An immediate blood test showed that I had elevated troponin levels, which indicate that someone is having a heart attack. So they knew I was having a heart attack, but didn’t know why. Believe me, at this point I was scared, confused and utterly in shock. How could I be having a heart attack! I’m healthy, I exercise, and I already eat kale and quinoa!!!!
Long story short, the doctors immediately treated me for a heart attack – nitroglycerin, blood thinners, and medications I can’t even recall. Because of the holiday, I had to wait two days for a cardiac catheterization – the procedure to check for blocked arteries – and BINGO – the doctor saw the tear in my artery. I had a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or a SCAD heart attack.
Thankfully, our local hospital had treated patients with SCAD before, however they said they only see about 10 SCAD patients a year. My own cardiologist had seen four SCAD patients in his entire career and I was one of them. Ugh – not a statistic I wanted to be a part of. Unlike a regular heart attack caused by clogged arteries, the SCAD is a tear, so the preferred treatment is medications and about six weeks of real rest to let the tear heal by itself. Often stents cause the tear to get bigger, so if at all possible, the doctors want to let the artery heal on its own.
Needless to say, I was really scared. I was afraid to walk, I was afraid to move thinking I would have another SCAD. Any little unusual feeling in my chest practically caused panic. I had many calls and visits to my cardiologist and two additional ER visits in the next several months. Happily, no additional SCAD, just weird side effects of recovery. Slowly, I began to feel better physically and mentally. My restrictions going forward were no heavy lifting, no straining and I had to keep my heart rate below 120. Wow, was that a change from my previous normal. This was a huge adjustment, but I was petrified not to follow orders.
I am two and a half years post SCAD and am happy to say, I feel really good. I walk my dog daily, I ride a Peloton bike with a heart rate monitor (no interval training for me – I’m like a turtle – slow and steady), and I even started downhill skiing again this winter. I have slowed everything down, but I am able to exercise and live. I know how lucky I am. I don’t take one day for granted. And I thank god I listened to my body.
If I have one message to share, it is to listen to your body. Don’t dismiss something that just doesn’t feel normal. It’s much better to get something checked out and find out it’s nothing than ignore it.
I encourage you to google SCAD heart attack and look at articles from the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and the American Heart Association. Spread the word! It could save a life.
It’s important to take care of yourself. It’s important listen to your own warning signs. It’s important to go to the doctor annually to get an EKG and get your cholesterol checked. Just go do it.
Other topics of the heart… I am often asked how I’m doing. How “my heart is healing” as one sweet friend says.
I can say that here I am over 5 months later and I think the shock is starting to subside. I still have bouts of sadness and fits of anger, thankfully usually when I’m alone in my car, but I’m adjusting to my new normal without my brother, Thad, a phone call away. He will be ever present in my day to day life, always. He is still everywhere, so many memories and tangible items I have that I bought with him or are from him… he even helped us design the house we live in. For that I am grateful.
I still have a hard time leaving him off of group emails/texts and have to remind myself before I hit send. I think of something I need to tell him at least twice a day and have a question only he could answer once a day. I miss him. Plain and simple I miss him terribly.
I have learned, however, that I am strong. Really strong. I am much more direct now, I have zero tolerance for nonsense but at the same time I am more patient and softer, much like my brother was. You learn from everything, probably more so from the terrible things.
When I spoke at my brother’s service I spoke about gratitude, my profound feeling of gratitude from the overwhelming outpouring of love & support after his death. I still have such gratitude. People are so kind to ask how I am, to check in and acknowledge my loss. To all of my friends and lovely readers who keep asking how I am, thank you. It is so helpful to be thought of and to have him thought of too.
So now go, go make your doctors appointments. Listen to yourself. Take care of yourself. And while you are at it, go for a walk.