As I’ve repeatedly insisted, my Heart Sisters blog readers are the smartest, kindest, sharpest and best-looking readers out there in the blogosphere. . . Today starts a series of Dear Carolyn posts starring my readers, each of whom has contacted me over the years to share, in her own words, the unique story of how she became a heart patient. Most of these, as you’ll discover if you keep up with this series, involve an “aha!” moment, or a plot twist that I didn’t see coming, or a lesson that just strikes me as downright useful for other women to know. And if you too have a personal heart story you think needs to be shared with the world (or at least the part of our world reading Heart Sisters each week), please share yours by contacting me here.
Today’s tale focuses on one of my favourite themes in women’s heart health: it’s possible to have both acid reflux (or any other chronic condition) AND a heart condition all at the same time. It’s from Debbie Orth, who lives near Cleveland, Ohio. (That’s Debbie in olive green at the centre of the photo above, having fun on a family cruise while celebrating her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, just seven months post-heart attack!)
“I do not remember how I came across this website, other than it must have been after I suffered a heart attack at the age of 48.
“I had a 100% blockage of my LAD.* (Carolyn’s note: see glossary at the end for translations of some medical terms in this letter). I had symptoms prior to my heart attack which were diagnosed as acid reflux after having an endoscopy and colonoscopy. Five weeks after that diagnosis, I unlocked my front door and called 911. The paramedics and hospital saved my life by initiating the STEMI protocol. Had I not called 911 when I did, I would not be here today. It was also determined that I was probably having mild heart attacks leading up to the massive one I had.
“Interestingly, I did have acid reflux and as it turned out, heart issues, too. But I do feel the first physician should have explored more.
“The symptoms I had were not classic, but the day before I had the heart attack, I felt like crap. I started feeling something was terribly wrong. Again, they were not classic symptoms. Pressure in my sternum and a little tingling in my hand. What set off the alarm for me was my color. It was ashen, and I remember saying out loud to myself, “I’m in trouble.” The next morning was when I had the heart attack.
“That was back on December 5, 2014. That day I made a commitment to myself, family and friends that I would do everything I could not to let it happen again. I had my last cigarette that day, started cardio exercise five days a week once I was cleared by cardiac rehabilitation, and I eat healthier now. I am a big walker/hiker, and try to take a couple of 5 -6 mile hikes every week.
“I have gone through many ups and downs, doctors’ appointments, testing, therapy with a counselor, and finally I now feel like the ground I am on is a little firmer. I will never forget what happened. Forever changed and grateful to be alive.
“I follow Heart Sisters and share your posts with friends, hoping we can keep women better informed on heart disease. Far too many women lose their lives to heart disease when there are so many treatments available.
“I want to thank you for the wonderful information and resources you provide on the Heart Sisters blog. Wishing you all the best,”
Q: Do you too live with more than one serious condition that sometimes makes it hard to figure out which one’s acting up?
- Dear Carolyn: “Breaking up is hard to do”
- Dear Carolyn: “Did I have a ‘real’ heart attack?”
- Dear Carolyn: “My husband’s heart attack was treated differently than mine”
- Dear Carolyn: “I’m having the time of my life!”
- Dear Carolyn: “I was never one to complain. . .
- Dear Carolyn: “People can change for the better”
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about doctor-patient communication in my book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). You can save 20% off the book’s cover price if you order it directly from Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN). Or ask for it at your local library, your favourite independent bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon.
*Glossary of terms in this post:
- LAD: left anterior descending coronary artery, one of the largest of the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle
- STEMI: ST elevation myocardial infarction, the most serious kind of heart attack, caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply to the heart muscle
- acid reflux: the backward flow of stomach acid into your esophagus (the tube that connects the throat and stomach) causing a feeling of burning in your chest (also called heartburn)
- endoscopy: a procedure used to visually examine your upper digestive system with a tiny camera on the end of a long, flexible tube
- colonoscopy: a test that allows doctors to look at the inner lining of your large intestine
- sternum: a long, narrow, flat bone at the front centre of your chest (also called the breastbone)
- For lots more patient-friendly, jargon-free translations of confusing terms, please visit my Heart Sisters glossary