Rita Owens: Taking Steps For A Healthier Heart With My Care Team
But I got the shock of a lifetime when I passed out in my classroom more than 10 years ago, and my doctor uttered four scary words: “you have heart failure.”
Hearing “you have heart failure” is a scary phrase for anyone.I didn’t smoke or drink, and was never overweight. So, when I was diagnosed, my emotions were all over the place – from fear to panic to confusion. But, after lots of learning and support from a wonderful care team – including my family – I have a new appreciation for life.
I learned that HF occurs when your heart does not pump enough blood to the rest of the body. While it’s serious, it’s treatable. After a lot of education, I learned that you can take control and help manage your HF by recognizing the symptoms and working with your doctor. It took time, but it was such a relief to become educated and feel empowered.
It’s for this reason that my daughter, Queen Latifah, and I helped launch the Rise Above HF initiative more than a year ago. Created by the American Heart Association and nationally supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, Rise Above HF raises awareness of HF and helps others just like me and Queen Latifah understand the signs and symptoms of the condition, and how to manage it.
I want you to feel empowered, too – so check out other personal HF stories, and let me share some things that have really helped me, my family, and my care team:
Be honest about how you feel, and talk about it: Only you know how you feel. You should immediately seek treatment if something doesn’t feel right. Learn to recognize the symptoms of HF – trouble breathing, fatigue, swelling of the feet and ankles, lack of appetite. Before I knew I had HF, I oftentimes felt tired and very short of breath. I couldn’t even bend down to tie a shoe and had trouble walking up and down the stairs. I also had a hard time sleeping without lots of pillows propping me up. My family thought these were just common signs of getting older, not a problem with my heart. That’s why it’s especially important to talk to your doctor and ask the right questions. A great resource to learn about symptoms and how to have productive conversations with your doctor and other members of your care team is “My HF Guide,” available at RiseAboveHF.org, an interactive workbook to help you manage your HF.
Work with your caregivers: Making lifestyle changes like eating healthy and staying active seemed so overwhelming to me given everything else that was going on at the time. But my daughter and family helped me maintain special dietary restrictions, an appropriate amount of physical activity each day and stick to my treatment regimen. Having a support network also makes those doctor visits just a little bit easier to ensure you’re asking all the right questions, and you understand the answers. And don’t forget, caregivers need care, too. For support and guidance on that, check out RiseAboveHF.org.
Small changes matter: I used to love sprinkling salt on my food, but now my family and I rely on spices to get the flavor we crave. In fact, we have a salt shaker we keep at the table, but we replaced the salt with a mixture of our favorite spices. We learn new recipes that are light on the sodium, but big on taste. Exercise is also important, so work with your doctor and other members of your care team to stay as active as you can, even if it’s just walking a few minutes a day. And for doctor appointments, bring a check-list of questions and take notes to help you remember your doctor’s tips to better manage the condition.
Here is a link to Queen Latifah's Top 10 Caregiving Tips
Check out RiseAboveHF.org to get educated. Don’t ever lose hope – together we can Rise Above HF!