Cholesterol, A Silent Killer
My name is Sherri Maloney, wife and mother of two daughters ages 12 and 15. I work as a paraprofessional in special education. In my free time, I volunteer as a Survivor Ambassador Spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women of Northern New Jersey. I urge people to know their health risks and family history of heart disease and stroke as part of my advocacy. I am hoping by sharing my story I am preventing others to not have to call themselves a survivor. A survivor - yeah that is me alright! I had a silent heart attack in 2011 and the cause - cholesterol!
Cholesterol is found in our foods and we all have and need cholesterol. There is “good” HDL - High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol which have a few positive functions our bodies needs such as the production of hormones, vitamin D, and assisting digestive fluids. One main job it performs is transporting the cholesterol to your liver to be expelled from your body ridding the excess cholesterol from building up and ending up in your arteries. There is also the LDL - Low Density Lipoprotein cholesterol which helps deliver cholesterol to cells for use in membranes and the synthesis of steroid hormones. LDL cholesterol is often called "bad" cholesterol as it brings cholesterol to your arteries leading to a possible plaquing of the arteries.The plaque can build up and cause major health issues including heart attack or stroke.
It has been my experience that most people assume heart attack or stroke usually happens to the elderly and more than likely in men. I have learned since my heart attack in 2011 that this is totally incorrect. I have also learned that cholesterol is not any easy diagnosis and should be taken seriously.
When I was in my mid 20’s I went for a physical as it was required for my job at the time. The doctor told me my cholesterol numbers were very high in the upper 200’s and he put me on a cholesterol lowering drug called a statin. He did not express any major concerns and so I did not take it to be very serious. Everyone seemed to have high cholesterol as it was in the foods we consume. I seen a nutritionist to go over diet and I started reading labels for low fat foods and oils. Life was great, I was in the prime of my life - I was active as I was newly married, new home owner, and returning to college. Dance classes were my electives and in my mind that would help me stay healthy.
As I approached my 30’s, I was always on the go and I joined a gym and another high impact dance class. My doctor retired and I followed up with another doctor. She had some concerns as my statin medication was causing my liver enzymes to elevate, and I also knew I wanted to start a family so I did not want to to be on medication. I briefly was given a cholesterol lowering drug that worked thru the digestive system. That never really worked well as my LDL remained high. I took a hiatus from the medications so I could start a family. Once my second child was born, different statins were tried. This cholesterol medicine seemed to be bringing the numbers down but never significantly down. I promised my doctor I would do all that I can with diet and exercise so that I would not have to increase or add any more medications as this doctor did seem more proactive in lowering my numbers.
Along came my 40’s and a big life changer - a silent heart attack! At age 41, I wound up in the E.R. on January 3, 2011 with what I thought was the flu. I remember my mom telling the E.R. staff to check my heart as I had a history of high cholesterol. The staff ignored her since I looked healthy and all my other vitals were looking good. They were leaning towards checking me for pneumonia. Things got progressively worse while I was laying in the E.R. and then they remembered what Mom said. Labs and tests were run to discover it was not a flu or pneumonia but a heart attack! I needed life saving procedures during a cardiac catheterization indicating the need for a balloon angioplasty with ablation and stenting. What this means is the doctors had to open my blocked artery, clean it out, and place stents to keep it open. I had blockages in 3 arteries from the years of cholesterol build up but at that time they had to address the one that put me in immediate danger. I was in total shock over this. Cholesterol is so silent because other than seeing readings thru lab work, you don’t feel it while it is plaquing over time. The discomfort and pain on the day of my heart attack is a pain I will never forget. Some plaque ruptured and blocked my right coronary artery that wound up being 100 percent blocked. The right coronary artery is one of the main arteries that carries oxygenated rich blood to the heart. I was lucky to have survived with no residual damage to the heart muscle itself. The cardiologists told me this and they mentioned it had appeared I had previous heart attacks before this one. I never had any previous heart related issues other than high cholesterol. My case became their challenge when they started to look back. Only some of the men in my family had early onsets of heart attacks. Their health histories were not matching mine. We did have high cholesterol on my maternal side but no one ever been hospitalized for any issues. I went on a new regimen of statins and enhancers and my numbers were lowering but still not the best numbers. An associate cardiologist from my group studies cardiac genetics. He suggested I do gene testing. In 2016, that test confirmed a diagnosis that would forever change my life and hope to save mine and others with this knowledge. I have Heterozygous Familial Hyperlipidemia (Cholesterolemia) which is an inherited gene mutation causing an overproduction of LDL cholesterol that the body can’t keep up with removal. A mutation is also blocking the ability to effectively remove the LDL cholesterol. This disorder was inherited from my maternal relatives and my body has had this inability to manage cholesterol since my birth. This lifetime buildup caused the early onset of heart disease and heart attack. I am one in 10,000,000 known cases worldwide. Known cases - not everyone thinks to have a screening or a genetic test, so how many people are walking around with a silent killer? How many people don’t think their family’s health history is important? Think again!
I passed this gene to my two daughters who are currently 12 and 15. They had the the genetic tests to confirm it and they both exhibit high cholesterol readings.
Despite radical changes to our diet and exercises we cannot get their LDL numbers to a safe level. We now are working with various specialists to figure out the best course of treatment for them.
As for me, in 2016, I was put on an inhibitor injectable pen that works as a blocker from the bad lipoproteins. The FDA had approved this medication in 2015. It is often unattainable thru some insurances as it costs about $14,000.00 per year. Lucky for me my insurance approved. I would take this in conjunction with my other medications.
Injections to my thigh or abdomen every 2 weeks is what the doctors ordered. I only made it as far as 3 injections because I noticed a pattern. I had stomach issues that developed. I was the 1% that had a reaction.
For me it is back to my oral statin regiment and continue to watch my diet and exercise. I see my primary yearly and my cardiologist every 6 months. In fact, today I had to get more blood work as my last cholesterol reading at my visit in August was a little high - again………