Feb 3
mapugh68 , Posted on SUPPORT NETWORK Blog

Cleansing My Heart by Sharing My Story

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My first symptoms began February 21, 2017.  I was driving from a visit to MO back to OK.  I was talking to a friend on my cell when I began to have chest pains.  The pain started under my right breast and spread to my left chest.  It intensified and leveled off at a point that I could tolerate, but I knew it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.   In fact, I told my friend, “If I tell you I’m having a heart attack, call 911 and tell them I’m around mile marker 241.” I later found out she thought I was kidding. The pain lasted about 30 minutes and subsided. 


On three other occasions between then and the end of February, I again had chest pains but none lasted as long as the first time, so I was prepared to blow it off.  After all, heart attack pains don’t come and go.  Right?  I had a colonoscopy scheduled for the end of March-my mother passed away from colon cancer at age 53-I was then 52 so that was a biggie in my mind.  My daughter, who is a physician insisted that before they put me out for the colonoscopy, I had to tell my Dr. about the chest pains, and reluctantly I did. 


The doc had me come to her office that day and did an EKG that showed abnormal.  She sent me to a cardiologist who by early April had me scheduled for a stress test, ultrasounds of my heart and legs, more EKG’s, ECHO’s, ECHO’s with contrast.  The results were that my heart appeared fine, but I had some blockage in one of my legs that would be treated with diet and exercise.  That was good news because…


April was a very busy month.  We were closing on a condo in MO and I was going to spend the next 3 months playing both Chip & Joanna Gaines, remodeling and redecorating.  I was full of “I am woman, hear me roar” the day I literally carried 18 cases of flooring to our 2nd floor condo and later installed it myself.


Fast forward 3 months.  We were about to have our first family holiday at the newly remodeled condo.  My husband had a long weekend for the 4th of July and for the first time in years; my daughter was going to be close enough to enjoy her days off with us.  I had promised her that if she would get on the road early on the 4th, I would have breakfast waiting and I did.  I didn’t know exactly what at the time, but something felt "off". 


I was beyond irritable.  I had been so tired the last few months, but I’d been doing more physical labor than I had in years so I put it off to that.  After breakfast I looked around and hubby was outside on the deck, my daughter and DIL were at the island watching a movie on their laptop.  My grandson was sitting on the couch with one eye on cartoons and the other on his tablet and I said to no one in particular “well it doesn’t look like any of you need me, so I’m going to take a nap!”  I was raging angry & for anyone that knows me…that’s typically not me.  It was 10 o’clock in the morning.  I’d only been up a couple of hours but in addition to feeling irritated with everyone I also was exhausted.  My bones were tired. 


I lay down, slept for an hour and awoke to the most intense chest pain of my life.  I sat up which made it worse and tried to take deep breaths and will it away.  I stood up to walk into the bathroom and immediately broke into a sweat and became very nauseous.  I splashed water on my face and tried to tell myself this wasn’t what I thought it was.  By the time I walked the short distance to the front room and said that I needed to go to the hospital, the pain had moved into my gums and my jaw and I knew beyond a doubt I was having a heart attack.


I insisted we drive to the hospital, despite my daughter pleading with me to let her call an ambulance because I thought we could get there quicker than an ambulance could get to us.  Right?  If you think you are having a heart attack and if there is an option, do not EVER drive yourself or ask someone else to drive you to the hospital!  Call an ambulance!  The EMT’s can begin treatment for a heart attack before you ever get to the hospital and that treatment can mean the difference between living and dying.  Fortunately because Ashley is a doctor, she was forcing aspirin on me within seconds. 


My poor husband.  He was trying to get us there in one piece while keeping an eye on me, (which is another reason not to drive yourself) while I screamed at him that “I’d be dead by the time we got there if he didn’t put some weight into the gas pedal.”  Not a pleasant ride for any of us.


If you ever want to see the ER look like it does on TV shows, go in and tell them you think you’re having a heart attack.  Within 5 minutes of being hooked up to more wires than I could count, the pain started to subside and the ER doc told me that my EKG was normal.  What? They were waiting for blood work to be sure it wasn’t a heart attack but they were sending me to be tested for a pulmonary embolism because they didn’t believe it was my heart. After all, less than 3 months ago, I’d had a stress test, which showed everything was ok.  Right?  I did not have a PE (which I already knew) and the doc was discussing typical admission protocol for chest pain but how he would be ok with sending me home if I wanted since my daughter would be there, so long as the next set of labs came back negative.   


I didn’t want to spend the 4th of July in the hospital if there was nothing wrong, but I was scared to go home because I KNEW I’d had a heart attack.  I asked my daughter to take off the doctor hat and just be my daughter for a second, and I reminded her that if there is a one in a million chance of anything atypical happening, medically speaking, I have always been that one.   It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s just something that is.   She assured me she knew that but that the blood test we were waiting on would verify if indeed I’d had a heart attack.  


To bring this very long tale to a close and get to the point, I had indeed had a heart attack.   I had no intention of sharing that today or in the foreseeable future in this forum.  However, today is Go Red for Women day, and the purpose is to bring awareness to women’s heart disease.  A disease that kills more women than all cancers combined.  Every 80 seconds a woman dies of heart disease.  EVERY! 80! Seconds! After listening this morning to a doctor on TV describe why women are so often misdiagnosed and how women who are diagnosed feel a stigma of having a “man’s” disease, I decided it’s time for this girl to shred that stigma in my life.


To my women (and men) friends, know your numbers!  Know your cholesterol, LDL, HDL, Triglycerides! If you don’t know them, schedule an exam. Make sure your doctor knows your family history. I found you can’t outrun genetics.  Your doctor can help access your risk for heart disease.  Know factors that increase your risk.  QUIT SMOKING!  Seriously QUIT! Walk a minimum of 30 minutes-preferably every day. Listen to your body and remember that you know it better than anyone, including your doctor. 


I was diagnosed with high cholesterol at 22. Even with medicine, I have never had normal or below cholesterol since that time.  Diet & exercise matter! This week I received my first cholesterol check since July 4th and for the first time in 31 years, my results are good.  Better than good although we are now aiming for great! And now I’m going to leave this here while I go to the gym to celebrate!  I am training for a half-marathon in October on the day that I will be the exact age that my mom was when she passed away.  And in the days to come as the training gets harder and I feel like giving up, I will remember a High School friend who lost her battle with heart disease this week and I will run for her and I will not give up.

  • JamesPL

    Your story is very inspiring! I applaud you for battling the urge to quit exercising and instead persevering. Once you get past what I would call the point of no return, you won't feel comfortable NOT exercising. It gets into your blood and becomes a way of life. I like to get up early and go out before work. A colleague once asked me how I am able to do that especially in the winter. I told him that when the alarm clock sounds, you have to get right up. If you hit the snooze button, you've lost the battle. So stick with it and you will one day find it difficult to imagine not having exercise as part of your life. Good luck in your continued success!

  • dphilli42

    Thank You for sharing your story. As a heart attack survior as well (at the age of 34) I get inspired by stories from fellow survivors. Glad to hear you are now seeing better cholesterol numbers. Good luck on your marathon!

  • jcummings26

    Hello! My name is John Cummings. I am a graduate student at NEIU in Chicago. I have found your story to be compelling and worth sharing. I would like to ask your permission to use it in a project for school – your name and picture will not be shown. My email is jrosswellcummings@gmail.com. Please contact me. 

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