I Had a Heart Attack. For Real.

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Jennifer Thorson is the newest addition to our myHeartHealth blogger community. This was a post she wrote in August 2011 after having a heart attack. Since then, she's blogger about leading a healthy lifestyle at My Life in Red. Welcome, Jennifer.

Yes, you read that right. I’m 37, a woman, a marathon runner, a healthy cook. I’m in shape with a normal BMI, an active, healthy, young(ish) mom of two. I’m not even stressed out.

And I had a heart attack on Saturday night, late, maybe Sunday morning. It’s hard to tell, since it wasn’t diagnosed until I was in the operating room. Everyone I know wants to know why.

Me too.

Except I do kind of know: Genetics trumps all. I have a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease, and I’ve known about my high numbers for 10 years. But, I’ve been haphazard about treating it, mostly because cholesterol drugs and having babies don’t mix and having a family was more important to me. Well, being haphazard is no longer an option.

I also know some other things that I ignored. That heart disease is the number one killer of women. That women often explain away their symptoms: “I must have lifted something funny, hurt myself in yoga, maybe its heartburn,” all excuses I used Friday and Saturday when the pain started, even Saturday night as I whimpered through piercing back pain and took eight Advil in the span of nine hours. That women’s heart attacks present differently and seem somehow, inexplicably, hard for doctors to spot.

So what happened is this – I started to hurt in my middle back (between shoulder blades) on Friday. I took Advil and used one of the aforementioned excuses. Saturday it still hurt, took Advil some more and the pain came and went. Saturday night I went to bed at midnight and that’s when the real pain began. I was sure it was reflux and propped myself up on the couch and suffered. Took handfuls of Advil and dulled the pain enough to sleep. In the morning I sat up and promptly broke into a sweat. Then I knew something was really wrong.

So I  . . . ate breakfast, took a shower, and drove myself to the ER. Sunday was camp drop-off day for my older son, so my husband stayed back in case I didn’t make it home in time. I didn’t.

After five hours in the ER, the only test that indicated anything was for an enzyme your heart secretes when it is injured or in trauma. EKG=normal, chest x-ray=normal, CT scan = normal. Until the blood test came back, the doctor was about to send me home with Percoset for straining my back. Wow.

I was admitted and brought to a regular hospital wing. Saw a cardiologist who actually said with a straight face “I don’t think your back is involved with this,” until a nurse took him aside to listen serious about my pain descriptions and the second enzyme test came back even higher. Then things happened pretty quickly.

I was moved to the ICU and prepped for an angiogram. They found total blockage in one artery and installed a stent. There is some early-stage blockage in the other arteries as well.

Back in the ICU the pain did not subside, so I was in for a second angiogram within two hours. The stent was fine, all was as expected, so it became just about trying to manage the pain, which neither morphine nor Percoset would dent.

But, by 7 a.m. Monday the pain was gone and I slept all day (well, as much as you sleep in an ICU where the blood pressure cuff goes off every 15 minutes). By Monday night I was in the cardiac ward, and Tuesday in cardiac rehab with five old guys in hospital gowns walking up steps with a heart monitor. I’m sure it was an interesting sight.

I was discharged Wednesday with five new prescriptions and 4-12 weeks of cardiac rehab ahead of me. It is unlikely there’s a marathon in my near future.

But, there is good news. The cardiologist we saw thinks my heart may actually completely heal, and that I should be stronger and healthier in the future, and as my brother worries, probably faster. (If you were running on 2/3 of your oxygen, you’d be slow too!) I’ll be running again for sure. I’m out to prove something now. I also know that I will  be alive to raise my sons and grow old with my husband.

So here’s the bottom line, my friends, and listen up: Exercise (alot), eat right (mostly plants), and don’t ignore your body. If you need meds, take them. See a doctor. Have a plan.

For real.

Image credit: Jennifer Thorson


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