When it comes to heart W health, family history is not on my side. Both of my parents died of heart disease (my father had four major heart attacks; my mother's first came at 49) and three of my nine siblings also have the disease.
Fourteen years ago, at age 50, I began experiencing chest discomfort. My doctor chalked it up to acid reflux. One night in bed, the discomfort turned to pain, accompanied by the sensation of something heavy sitting on my chest. An ambulance took me to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with a heart attack. Two weeks later, I underwent a double bypass.
Following my bypass, complications required multiple stents. It seemed like every other year, I needed a new stent; I had five in 2011 alone! About a year ago, my husband and I were on our daily three-mile morning walk when I became short of breath and my legs felt rubbery. My daughter, an ER nurse, suggested that I get a second opinion rather than see my usual doctor. The new doctor discovered multiple blockages in my stents and used radiation therapy to reopen them, allowing my heart to regain pumping function.
Various blood thinners and a daily aspirin keep my cholesterol and blood pressure under control; I also try to watch my sodium intake and exercise for an hour every morning in an all-woman group setting. My husband and I are back to our morning walks and I feel more confident in my future.
I ALWAYS TELL PEOPLE:
• Don't be afraid to seek a second opinion. I felt like my original doctor wasn't listening to me; he made me feel uneasy when I asked him questions concerning my treatment plan. Originally I was nervous to tell him I was trying out a new doctor, but ultimately it was the healthiest decision I made.
Parade is honored to join forces with Cleveland Clinic, a world-famous, nonprofit multi-specialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. (The heart attack survivors in this article are all patients of Cleveland Clinic.) We are working together to identify health trends and issues that affect your well-being. We plan to gather information via a series of surveys and use the collected data to help educate Parade readers and the public about simple, powerful ways to live a healthier life. Watch for upcoming opportunities to participate in our surveys.