Heart failure diagnosis spurs Massachusetts woman to get serious about long-term health
By Sandra (Sandi) Holloway
As former Mrs. Massachusetts International 2018, I used the platform to share my story of overcoming health challenges, including heart failure, to inspire women around the world to make time for themselves and protect their heart health.
When my dad was diagnosed with stage IV bladder cancer, I started focusing on caregiving, ignoring my own health. After being hospitalized for acute heart failure in June 2018, I recommitted to putting my health first. By keeping myself as healthy as I can, I know I can prolong my life.
I was first diagnosed with heart failure in 2011, following two decades of health issues. I overcame breast cancer in the late 1980s and a case of myocarditis, but struggled with obesity, putting on 200 pounds in a decade. I lost significant weight following gastric bypass surgery in 2007, but unhealthy eating habits caused me to gain most of it back.
By 2010, I was determined to make a lasting change, overhauling my diet and adding physical activity to my routine. Although I had shed 60 pounds, I was often out-of-breath, and had trouble managing stairs. I assumed the symptoms were due to my excess weight. One evening after my regular walk, I felt so miserable that I went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with having heart failure.
Researching online at the American Heart Association’s website, I realized I was not alone. and the number of people living with heart failure will increase by 46 percent by 2030. Coronary artery disease (CAD), high blood pressure and previous heart attack are the most common conditions that can lead to heart failure. Other risk factors include smoking, diabetes and hardening of the . I had untreated high blood pressure, obesity and poor diet.
After being diagnosed with heart failure, I spent the next few months learning to manage my new diagnosis. I required nursing home care, oxygen and I was wheel chair dependent due to extreme weakness at times. I returned to the hospital several times the first 6 months with exacerbation of symptoms and shortness of breath.
Now 52, I have stepped back from my public role to focus on my own health. I recently added a home gym to make exercise easier when winter weather makes getting around difficult. Motivated to strengthen my heart, I overhauled my diet again, restricting sodium and slowly returning to exercise.
I believe in actively tracking my symptoms and medications. It has helped me recognize changes earlier and better manage my conversations on heart failure with my doctor. If I’ve changed meds or doses, I have to keep track of what’s going on, that way I can contact my doctor if I need to. I know I can get on track, it’s just a matter of doing it the healthy way and moving forward.
Thankfully, the American Heart Association encourages people living with heart failure to download or register for HF Path, a free digital self-management tool, available on the web and in app stores. This digital tool teaches HF patients to recognize and control symptoms and learn how to manage their condition through interactive lesson plans. It also includes an interactive symptom tracker, as well as medication, weight and physical activity trackers. I love using it!