The Night That Broke My Heart
The Night That Broke My Heart
Like most women, I had many irons in the fire – farm wife, mother, grandmother, caregiver, and community volunteer. Also like most women, throughout the course of my life, my heart had endured many difficult emotional and physical trials. No matter how hard life became, I kept going, my heart kept beating, and I grew strong from the tests and storms of life. All of that changed on a sweltering hot Ohio summer night in July 2016 when I found myself with a broken heart.
The day started out busy and the previous week had been heavily scheduled. My 93 year-old father, Dale, had just been discharged from the hospital, and we were planning a meeting to discuss his care with my mom, Betty, and my sister, Shanda. My husband, Rex, and I had just renovated our living room, and my grandson, Eli, was staying with us working on the farm. My daughter, Rachel, and I were busy preparing a huge garage sale, and both of us were deep into our prep work reviewing resumes in order to judge the Darke County Fair Jr. King and Queen Contest.
On the night that changed my life forever, I had no inkling that several hours later, I would be flying over my own home in the Miami Valley Care Flight helicopter. Instead, I enjoyed getting dressed up, and left home, joining the rest of the judges, directors, and royalty for the Judges Dinner. We had a wonderful time, and I felt fine at first. However, after eating, I started to become very nervous, experiencing indigestion, and thinking something I ate didn’t agree with my stomach. I chalked it up to nerves and drove to the pageant.
As we were waiting backstage, I began to have some chest pain and felt chilled. I walked to the judges table hoping this would pass quickly thinking, “This is odd, but it must be my nerves.” The evening continued and I kept feeling worse, but thought, “How can I leave a pageant when I am one of the judges?” At the end of the night, the winners were announced, and I debated driving to the local ER but decided to go home instead.
As Rachel and I were finishing up things for the garage sale, I sat in a lawn chair with Riley, our English Shepherd, at my feet. He must have sensed something was wrong because he refused to leave my side. That night, I tried sleeping but could not rest. My blood pressure was elevated, and pain was starting around my collar ****. I finally woke Rex saying, “I need to go to the ER.” It was a 20 minute drive back to Greenville. The hospital staff immediately took me in for an electro-cardiogram (EKG) and blood work. I knew from working in a cardiopulmonary department, that the EKG did not look right. The staff started an IV, and the ER doctor told me I was going to be Care-Flighted to Dayton for a Cardio Catheterization (Heart Cath). He thought I was having a heart attack.
I cried. I was so scared.
The Care Flight staff reassured me during the flight. I was the rare patient who was conscious and asked a lot of questions as we soared through the night sky, blazing a path to Dayton’s Good Samaritan Hospital. I even remember when we flew over our farm. Upon arrival, the Cath team was ready to go. The procedure went well and there were no blockages. That was great news; however, not all of the news was positive.
Dr. Joffee, my Cardiologist, explained that I had a very serious condition caused by stress called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, also called Broken Heart Syndrome. He explained it as the heart being an abnormal shape, causing improper beating, functioning and pumping. During the procedure, I began to cough non-stop. He said this was due to pulmonary edema (fluid) from things not working properly within the heart, causing a back-up to my lungs.
After the Heart Cath, the doctors and nurses did an echocardiogram (ECHO) to determine my ejection fraction. This measures the volume fraction of fluid ejected from a chamber of the heart, is used to determine pumping efficiency, and to classify heart failure types. It was not good. I was told whatever I was doing I needed to stop if I wished to get better. My mind immediately ticked off all of my commitments, and a mile long To Do list of projects I wanted to complete. It was hard to accept, but I began to acknowledge that my busy lifestyle would have to change.
I was taken to the heart ICU floor where monitors were constantly dinging. I received excellent care, rest, oxygen and blood pressure medicine along with massive doses and injections of Lasix to get the fluid off my heart. I was exhausted! As I slowly improved, I was moved to the step-up unit where I could get out and walk with assistance. The deciding factor to going home would be the ECHO test results. Thankfully, my heart function had improved from a low 35-40% ejection fraction at admission, and I was able to go home after a week. My new To Do List no longer included community engagements, large family dinners and long work days. I had a new set of instructions to walk, rest, take my meds and cut back on stress and extra activities.
At home I took short walks in the evening. My chest would hurt occasionally. It took time to build up strength. I rested and cut out many of my volunteer activities. An ECHO two months later showed significant improvement. My ejection fraction was back up to 60%, within normal range.
My next test of my new commitment to listen to my body and respect its limits was presented during the fall harvest season on our family farm. One of my main jobs is to drive the grain cart, a large piece of equipment, alongside the combine, while Rex harvests the fields and dumps the contents into the cart. Autumn and harvest are my favorite time of year, but I knew I would need to watch my hours and not be out working late at night. Most days that strategy worked well. Rex supported me every step of the way. Our family and employees worked as a team to get the job done.
Slowly as I improved, I added a few activities and took naps whenever I felt tired. I have always tried to eat healthy, take walks, and do water aerobics. The biggest change was taking blood pressure medicine and a baby aspirin every day. The biggest challenge was trying to learn to manage stress and not go overboard taking on so many big projects all at once.
We cannot control what life hands us, but we can always find ways to reduce stress and take care of ourselves. For me, it helped to divide responsibilities among other family members, and learning to say no to some volunteer opportunities. We have a large farm to manage and lots of lawn to mow so doing those responsibilities and limiting a lot of extra activities was a must.
I have always enjoyed researching health issues. Here is a brief explanation of Takotsubo and how it affects the heart:
Where does the name Takotsubo come from? This condition is named after the uniquely shaped pots used to trap an octopus. The word itself is Japanese in origin. In Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy (TCM), the heart resembles this same shape. Sometimes the condition can be brought on by excessive grief, trauma or loss. TCM affects women exclusively, particularly ages 58-75. Most women have suspected they are having a heart attack when it could be Takotsubo. Symptoms may include: Chest pain, shortness of breath, electrocardiogram results mimicking those of a heart attack, no evidence of coronary artery obstruction, movement abnormalities in left ventricle and or ballooning of the left ventricle. (Harvard Health Website)
I learned from reading the handouts at the hospital that during a TCM episode, blood flow to part of the heart is briefly blocked. This can happen if the coronary arteries have a temporary spasm. It can also occur if the smaller blood vessels of the heart do not get enough blood. Excess release of stress hormones such as adrenaline may also play a role. (Premier Health Handout)
I am not sure what actually caused that scary evening for me in 2016. I suppose there were several factors including: pushing myself too hard, exhaustion, dehydration, experiencing too many emotional factors from my care-taking role, and getting overly stressed about the pageant. I was doing too many big things all at once.
That night in 2016 was God’s wake up call for me. Yes, I should have gone to the ER sooner, even if it meant leaving the pageant. I should have asked for help…but God was with me. He placed the right nurses and doctors there that night, so I had the quick care I needed to be diagnosed and treated. Great staff assisted in the recovery. I read about the condition in the hospital and learned I needed to make better choices; to say no sometimes, to not push myself hard all the time, and to take better care of my health.
My hope is that this essay will help educate women about this condition, so they will be aware if they have similar symptoms, and to not delay in getting help. Sometimes it is hard to admit when we need help; but asking for help could save your life. I was very fortunate I survived, and without permanent heart damage.
Life is precious. As women, our hearts are vital to our wellbeing, and having a healthy heart is very important. Each of us need to take steps to minimize the effects of stress. I am extremely thankful to my doctors, staff and family who were there for me, and others who have made allowances in their schedules, and are understanding about my commitments or reduced levels of participation.
As Daughters, how can we help educate? What can we do to help others with heavy stress loads? We can offer our stories. We can help a neighbor or friend with an errand, or a household task. Little things mean so much to others who are overwhelmed. We can all offer an encouraging word or prayer for help and strength for ourselves and others. Most importantly we can offer our strong, beautiful, compassionate hearts of kindness and understanding to our world, our communities, our families and ourselves. This is how a broken heart heals.
Personal medical records and reports
Premier Health Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy Handout