By Stephen O’Brien
The testimonial below is from heart-attack survivor Mary Gill. It’s a fascinating, moving story that thankfully has a happy ending. Today, Mary is an advocate for raising awareness about heart disease and helping women understand the warning signs.
My heart attack has really become a part of my life.
After it, I didn’t have a lot of lifestyle changes to make, but I think about it every day. My symptoms came on very quickly. In fact, I went from normal to thinking I was dying, in about three minutes.
I went to bed one night and awoke with nausea. It felt different from a stomach virus. I told my husband something was wrong, and within a few minutes I was having cold sweats, hyperventilating and experiencing excruciating pain in my shoulder blade. It felt like my body was failing me.
My husband is a physician, and although he doesn’t work on hearts, from his experience and my symptoms he knew it was heart related.
I will say, the only thing we did wrong was that we drove to the Emergency Room. Which was the right place to take me, but I should have been in an ambulance. If I would have truly “failed” while he was driving, that would have been catastrophic. When you’re in an ambulance they can take care of you in the moment.
But since my husband was on staff at the hospital, he knew exactly how to get me to the ER. He got me there within minutes, but I still had significant heart damage in such a small amount of time. They very quickly took me into an examining room and did an EKG, which showed that I was in extreme distress.
The staff immediately said, “Take her out of this room!” And sent me straight to the crash room. That’s when my husband knew something very serious was going on. The ER doctor, who didn’t look old enough to be my brother, leaned over and said, “Mary, you’re in the throes of a heart attack.”
Instantly I had people putting lines in my arm, placing nitroglycerine under my tongue and wiping my forehead, and it all became very real for me.
The cardiac team was called in. They performed an angioplasty and put in a stent. I spent three days in the hospital and then was in cardiac rehab for three months.
That was seven years ago. When I look back, I never smoked. I was never obese. I was in pretty good shape going into my heart attack. But now I take my medications religiously, and I’m just aware. I exercise, eat right and do all of the healthy things, but now I’m conscious that I’m a heart attack survivor.
I was honestly embarrassed when I had a heart attack. In fact, I told my husband right out of recovery, “Why don’t we not tell anybody about this?” Which is crazy. I think other women can relate to that in some kind of way. I felt like my heart attack weakened me, not physically – but it’s something that happens to men. I was 42 years old, and it would’ve never entered my consciousness that I would have a heart attack.
I would have guessed breast cancer or something like that. I’ve had many girlfriends go through that, and they are wonderful survivors. I don’t know why women don’t talk about it. Maybe it makes us think about our own mortality. It just usually happens to men and to people who are older.
I was 42, which isn’t young, but way too young in my mind to have a heart attack. So whether or not your family has a history of heart disease, which mine didn’t, it’s important to stay educated. Because understanding your family’s heart history, your cholesterol, and your blood pressure is the best way to get to ahead of heart disease. In the medical world, so many things, like research and studies, are geared towards men.
That’s changing, and Go Red is here to bring that change faster. Go Red is a proactive women’s movement that promotes education and women empowering other women. Everyone, men included, have women in their lives: their wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, coworkers. So it’s a powerful movement that men and women should get involved with.