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Jen's heart story

A heart attack and double bypass

surgery at the age of 50

May 14, 2014 was like any normal Sunday. I got up and was having my Chi Tea, when all of a sudden, my arm started hurting, and when I stood up, I was dizzy. I was going to go back to bed (thinking I was coming down with the flu), but then I realized that I felt like my body really wasn't right. I went to the hospital, where they told me I was having a heart attack. 4 days later had double bypass surgery.

Who would have known? I'd been in the hospital twice in my 50 years (once each for the delivery of my 2 children). I had no previous conditions that would warn of a heart attack – no family history of diabetes or heart disease. Up to that point, I had thought I was in perfect health.

My understanding was virtually zero. I could not have told you what a good cholesterol or bad cholesterol was, and I could not have told you what the top and bottom number of a blood pressure meant. I did not have high blood pressure or diabetes, and I go in for an annual physical, but that’s it. I did start smoking when I was 42, and my last cigarette was that morning.

For the first 30 days I was scaring myself because I was trying to take it all on myself. I think cardiac rehabilitation was the biggest impact for me, because you are going through a lot of emotional stuff. Emotionally, I was a mess. I didn’t die, but I had a lot of fear. Having the cardiac rehab staff monitor me while I was pushing my limits on the treadmill helped me to build confidence. I also received a lot of education. I learned a lot about nutrition. I am not obese, but I ate a lot of fast food and pizza. Learning how to cook, using the right oils, and reading labels was huge for me. I am now on the American Heart Association’s Patient Support Network and we started a discussion called ‘you gotta go to rehab.’ I know I am a survivor so it is part of my personality to do everything I can to control my outcome, and not just be a victim.

It was a nurse in the hospital when I was discharged that got me into cardiac rehab. I was very lucky because my insurance paid for me, and it was worth every dime. In cardiac rehab they would take 15 minutes and talk about different topics. I was directed to the AHA Support Network through cardiac rehab.

The doctors are really good, but they are overworked, and really busy. You need to follow your doctor’s advice, but you also need to be your own advocate. I started posting on the AHA Support Network, and people started responding. I realized that what I was feeling was perfectly normal. I realized my emotions were out of control and discussed that with my doctor.

The first blood pressure device I used was a wrist device and it did not work worth a darn. My doctor recommended a blood pressure device and it is spot on. I have a treadmill and bike in the basement, and I learned from cardiac rehab to use the rating of perceived exertion, because it would say to get your heart rate to 150 or 155, but if you are on blood pressure medication, that is not going to work. I use an app that records my heart rate using the camera on my phone. I exercise 5 days per week and take my blood pressure before and after I work out. All of this, I learned in cardiac rehab. I am not longer on blood pressure medications so when I am working out I grab my phone and stick my finger on the camera. Even the app was something I learned about at cardiac rehab. I didn’t know anything like that existed. You have to find a way to validate, and correlate with things you already know, because it is hard to weed through everyone’s opinions.

I am now more tuned into my body than I was before. You get pains, but instead of ignoring them, I really analyze, but you can drive yourself crazy. I am 51, so things are going to hurt occasionally.

I joined Mended Hearts and was trained to talk to other patients. I wish I would have had someone to talk to when I was in the hospital. To sit in the hospital, feeling fine, but not knowing if you are going to die was a very scary time. It was not until I went to cardiac rehab and they gave me a flyer. Also, it would be nice if all of the information was in one place, rather than going to the internet for information.