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:
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“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.”
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Thanks Elizabeth for sharing your story!
- How expecting recovery can help heart attack survivors
- Which one’s right? Eight ways that patients and families can view heart disease
- How we adapt after a heart attack may depend on what we believe this diagnosis means
- Six personality coping patterns that influence how you handle heart disease
- Learning to live with heart disease: the fourth stage of heart attack recovery
Q: What “concrete changes” for heart health have you made as Elizabeth did?