From heart-sick to heart-smart

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Heart attack survivors often celebrate two birthdays during the year: the actual day they were born, and the fateful day they survived that heart attack. When I read Elizabeth’s reflections last month on the occasion of her 4-year heart anniversary, I asked if I could share her journey of recovery with you here. 

With her kind permission, here’s what this 47-year old Virginia mother of two wrote:  

♥  ♥  ♥

“Honestly, I could not have envisioned in 2009 that there would ever be a time I didn’t live with worry and fear about my heart. I know I felt desperate to not die at age 43!

“My daughter was only three years old at the time, and not terribly aware of the situation. She was thrilled to have her aunt and grandparents visit. My son was six and he really wanted to come to the hospital to see me. My husband had taken a pic of me in the E.R. to show them I was okay, but he understood it was serious.

“I was able to call home each night before bedtime, and in the morning before school, so for them it was kind of like when I went on the business trip to Cleveland. I later took my son with me to cardiac rehab, and we stopped in on the Cardiac Care Unit to take a peek at where I’d been.

“I did make some concrete changes that made my cardiac recovery possible:

  • I changed to a new function at work that gives me less stress (thank you co-workers for this idea!) and this also gave me the space to re-set the expectations of how I would work;
  • I changed how I react to stressful situations so that they’re not so toxic (thank you therapy! – a huge part of my change as I had to get through some of my old issues);
  • I changed how I rate my needs compared to the husband, kids, family, work, etc. – and I now come out on top much more often as I learned to put my needs first.

“One great technique I learned from a female senior leader at my firm is to set a time-bound focus for your non-work commitments, and commit to only one thing if possible.

“For example, I focused on my son’s ADHD for about 18 months (re-upped each six months) to get him in a good place with school and friends. This school year, I am leading a Brownie Girl Scout troop for my 2nd grade daughter. I have *not* committed to lead a troop until 12th grade!!!!”

“Surviving a heart attack motivated me very intensely to exercise and eat well. It kept me going for maybe 12-18 months. Then I hurt my foot – plantar fasciitis – and had to STOP – no walking, no running, no bike. For weeks.

“I’ve never gotten back to the same level of intensity – that three days a week  for an hour thing. But I’d also realized that it wasn’t just a magical way to keep myself alive; it gave me a nice figure, too!

“I used to think I’d apply to attend the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium for Women With Heart Disease at Mayo Clinic. I’d be so good as a community speaker. But I know that this would have been one thing too many. And when I thought about how I’d spend my time for those 12 months, I knew it wasn’t what I’d put first.

“I’d rather be the Brownie leader!

“I am very lucky that my damaged heart muscle area is small and at the base of my heart. I am not disabled by this injury. I am realistic that not everyone has such a good outcome.

“I do have a pill box with lots of prescription drugs, but it does not bother me so much. I have many more gym outfits and running shoes than before my  heart attack! And I have a new therapist, who will help me to keep my mental health in good condition as well.”

♥  ♥  ♥

Thanks Elizabeth for sharing your story!


See also:

Q: What “concrete changes” for heart health have you made as Elizabeth did?


4 thoughts on “From heart-sick to heart-smart

  1. This is why real patients who have walked the talk, been there done that, know what it’s like, and have come out the other end to actually celebrate milestones like this and offer some words of wisdom to ‘newbies’ are SO helpful to those at the start of their overwhelming medical journeys. Thanks to Elizabeth and to you for reposting her words here, Carolyn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I was thinking how immensely helpful it would have been, while I was lying in the CCU, scared to death and overwhelmed, to have had another heart attack survivor like Elizabeth who was further along the road than I was, share her experience with me at the time.


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