I live a life that by all accounts is enviable. I’m passionately in love with my husband of 32 years and I’m a proud parent of four incredible adult stepchildren, seven exceptional grandchildren and I’ll soon be a great grandmother. My career is successful, productive and profitable and I have the honor of working in Rwanda for the last eight years for a foundation I co-founded. I have no complaints and want no changes.
With the “normal” level of stress that most people have, life was clipping along at a brisk if not at moments, breathless rate.
Health issues were never an issue, and future health problems that accompany aging were in my distant future. Until the week of April 29, 2013. My health would outwardly change in an instant. My life would change forever.
If ever two DNA pools should NOT have been matched, it was my parent’s. I remember once filling out a medical form and checking off all the boxes for which the two of them qualified: heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, etc. At the bottom of that form I wrote: “This gene pool must be stopped!”
Both parents died. One of complications of cancer (which began with smoking) and the other complications of diabetes (which began with obesity). Ugly deaths of two beautiful people. While I’ve never smoked, I’ve had more than my fair share of groceries and yet I worked out, and maintained a fairly healthy lifestyle. But not fair enough. On May 1 I suffered a heart attack which I dismissed as stress. That dismissal could have caused me the life I love. Instead I was given a pass. And I write this because I believe I will only get this pass one time. And it occurs to me that the pass was given not because I deserved it, but because I didn’t.
I describe myself as an ordinary woman intent on accomplishing the extraordinary. The sequence of events leading up to my heart attack and subsequent events remind me that on a daily basis I can choose to look at what happens to me as a gift or a curse. And the fact that I’m here to share this story leads to be the inarguable conclusion that I was given a gift.
On April 29th, I was at the gym with my workout partner. I got on the elliptical and my stomach “flipped”. I asked her, “Is it HOT in here?” “No” was her reply. So I worked it off and felt fine. Tuesday April 30th I was really stressed working on a project for the foundation for three hours. I got home at 7pm exhausted and went to bed. I just figured I’d overworked. May 1, Wednesday night, I had slight chest pains (self diagnosed: heartburn). My right arm hurt as I laid down to rest (from working out). My upper back ached slightly (I have a bad back). My jaw slightly ached (must be my teeth). Took two Advil and went to bed. Woke up at 2am with same symptoms and said to myself, “Am I having a heart attack?” (NO – it’s just stress. I don’t want to spend the night in the ER only to learn “it’s just stress”). Went back to sleep.
May 2nd I went to a 7:30am meeting then came down to my office. I ran up the flight of stairs as I do every day and was slightly out of breath. And I said to myself, “HUH? Am I having a heart attack?” And I went to work.
I remembered the movie I’d seen when I was speaking March 4th in southern California called, “Just a Little Heart Attack“. So I drove home (!) and said to my husband, “You know, I think something’s wrong”… We were at the hospital by 11am. All signs normal! (Excellent – it was just stress!) Until they took a blood test and identified my heart enzymes indicated I was anything BUT normal.
Within an hour, I had been stripped of my clothes, had a very personal area of my body shaved so that I could be catheterized, had a procedure called an angioplasty, diagnosed that the entire left side of my heart was blocked, a stent inserted and shuffled up to the cardiac intensive care unit for a night of monitoring, bed pans, scared but relieved family members and new paradigm with which I would need to view my life.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived. I miraculously have NO permanent heart damage and my journey continues. I am determined not to be defined by my coronary artery disease but by my strength and resilience.
I see the world through a very serious lens. For the last 30 years if I was asked if I was serious, I would say “As a heart attack”. GUESS if I say THAT anymore! And yet, there were tremendously funny moments through the whole process, incredible skill demonstrated by the medical staff at the hospital and the team I’ve now assembled around me.
My goal is to care for myself as I care for others. Use the power of focus and faith, the powerful of partnership and the power of no to take responsibility for my health as much as I can.
Focus and faith: Focus on what will keep me healthy and be consistent in diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Faith in myself that I’m worth caring for as deeply as I care for others in the world.
Partnership: I didn’t have a primary physician prior to the heart attack that influenced me. I now have a team of people who care about what I care about, whom I respect and follow, and who are determined to allow me to continue being who I am in a healthy and more powerful way.
NO: To doing too much. A no to others is a yes to myself. Reducing my workload, streamlining my foundation. Taking more time to be with those I love. And caring enough for myself that others don’t have to tell me no.
I’m willing to “out” myself about my heart attack because I am the woman in the “Just a Little Heart Attack” film that Go Red produced. There are other women just like me that need to hear again and again that we must honor our instincts and care for ourselves as we care for others. What will it take? The continued tireless efforts of Go Red and everyone who believes that a life worth living is a life worth living well.
As I began this article I stated I have an enviable life. I must honor all that I’ve been given by caring for myself first so that I can care for others.
Thanks to Go Red, I’m here to say: Life is more serious that a heart attack: it’s worth it to care for my heart so that I may continue to touch the hearts of others.