Her Story, Her Heart

"Her Story, Her Heart"

“Her Story, Her Heart”

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, I had the privilege of sharing “My Heart Story” at Mayo Clinic Health System-Eau Claire.  Entitled “Her Story, Her Heart”, the presentation was developed to treat your sweetheart or yourself to the gift of heart health. It was a panel presentation and included cardiologist Regis Fernandes M.D., Susan Pope,N.P. nurse practitioner and Robert Wiechmann M.D., cardiovascular surgeon, heart attack survivor Sheila Dutter and myself.

Sheila and I told our stories of struggle and triumphs of dealing with heart disease.  The physicians elaborated on topics we discussed such as stents, coronary bypass surgery, enhanced external counterpulsation and any and all heart subjects.  The panel was open to questions from the audience who shared some of their heart stories and asked stimulating and insightful questions.  It was an evening of gaining knowledge and perspective, flowers, treats, music and prizes.

“My Heart Story is included in this blog posting for thisoldheartblog.”  For those of you who follow my blog, you will note that I did not find my red dress.  I AM STILL SEARCHING!  I did find a red patterned scarf though!  HAPPY HEART MONTH!

♥ My Heart Story  ♥

I would like to begin by sharing one of my favorite concepts and the basis of my life’s journey:

Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the NOW,(right here with me) and NOW is right on time.” ― Asha Tyson

My health struggle has led me to examine that belief in full.  I have come to realize that I have had the most priceless opportunity to meet some extraordinary human beings, from patients, to nurses, to physicians.  This journey is not about what I lost.  It is all about what I have gained.

My name is Sharon…

And my heart story is simple and an all-too-familiar tale of feeling indestructible.

My story begins in July of 2007 when I was awakened by a heaviness and pain in my chest at 2 AM.  I remember it as feeling SO heavy and far too much pressure.  I could feel the heaviness radiate to my back and down my left arm.  I immediately thought that this must be what it feels like when you have a heart attack.

I was so restless and so fearful.  Yet, I got up and moved from the bedroom to the family room, thinking if I sat upright, I would be able to breathe better and perhaps this pain and pressure would subside.  AND, being a good wife, I did not want to wake my husband.  HE needed HIS rest.

The pain persisted.

I sat alone and told myself I could make it through this.  After all… I am a woman.

I am also a nurse.  You would think that would make me smarter.  Quite the contrary, as I know how busy doctor’s schedules are and how little sleep they get.  I knew how demanding patients can be.  I did not want to be one of THOSE patients.  Again, I told myself, I CAN do this.  I do not want to bother anyone.

I even tried Tylenol.  I tried walking… pacing.  I tried sitting more upright.  I tried to catch my breath.

I kept telling myself I was TOO young to have a heart attack.  (I was 56 years old at the time.)

I was too healthy.  (I was a runner and had just completed Grandma’s Marathon.)

My mind wandered.  I knew my father’s heart history was NOT good.  He had his first bypass surgery at the age of 41 and his second bypass surgery at the age of 51.

BUT, I am a WOMAN!  A SUPER Mom, at that!

So, that being the case, I made it through the night and went to work the next morning, here at Mayo Clinic – Eau Claire, still not feeling well, but the chest pain had subsided.  I kept smiling and no one knew the difference!  Later that evening, after work, I thought I would take my evening walk and maybe run a bit.  I started slowly.  The chest pain returned.  Both arms felt like were going numb.  I went home and to bed early that evening, thinking I should really call my internal medicine doctor the next day.

The rest is history as one thing led to the next.  My internal medicine doctor saw me after I finished my work day at the clinic.  She ordered a CT angiogram —just as a precaution.  She told me to start a regime of Prilosec before supper and Pepcid AC at night.  It sounded like a perfect course of action to me.

I no sooner returned home from the angiogram, when I received a phone call from the hospital, telling me to return via the Emergency Department to be admitted.  It was surreal after that.  I felt this was happening to someone else, NOT ME.  After all, I was the SUPER WOMAN!

My CT angiogram was read to be of high risk because of multi-vessel obstructive coronary artery disease.  I was having episodes of unstable angina.

I had a cardiac catheterization and had two Cypher stents placed in my LAD – Left anterior descending coronary artery.  I was diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease.  Additionally I have other coronary vessels with blockages, but they were too small to stent.  It was known as microvascular disease.  This would be treated with medications and EECP.

I remember first talking to the cardiologist.  I remember his exact words.  “We cardiologists love to fix things.”  “You cannot be fixed.”  These words had a HUGE impact on me.

I knew I had to work hard.  I knew I had to eat right and exercise every day.  I have continued to have chest pain or angina since that time.

Some days are good and some are bad.

Some days are scary.

It is my new life.

It takes REAL determination and strength to circle the dessert bar at Fanny Hill brunch – just one of my favorite places to “treat” myself.  I have been able to avoid the rich and creamy, fat-laden fudge at Scheels Coffee Bar, but it is always hard to tell the attendant when they ask: “Can I help you?” that I am merely “just looking!”  I was secretly hoping someone would buy me some Butterfinger Fudge for my birthday and then I would HAVE TO EAT IT!  Never happened, but then there is always next year!

It takes continued strength of mind to walk the bike trail or treadmill every day, to go to sleep each night at the right time, to take a boat-load of medications and live life devoid of inflammatory effects of strong emotions.

I learned about a treatment called Enhanced External Counterpulsation or EECP and it has been my salvation.  Since 2007, I have had 4 series of 50 sessions of EECP treatments.  It has given me my life back.

The sessions are daily and consist of a series of 35 to 50 hour-long meetings.  I realize that this is my hope.  I have learned that everyone needs hope, no matter how small it may appear.  EECP is approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is a nonsurgical therapy for angina promoting the development of collateral coronary arteries, used in patients who are not good candidates for surgery.  It is used in prominent clinics such as Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic.

I know the process far too well.  After I stretched into a pair of navy blue leggings (and felt ever so vulnerable) daily, I rested upon a padded exam table.  The nurse then placed electrodes on my chest and wrapped pneumatic compression cuffs around my calves, thighs’ and buttocks.  These cuffs are attached to air hoses that connect to valves that inflate and deflate the cuffs based upon my heart rate.  I heard the humming and thumping and felt the tightness and pressure that increased and decreased depending on the regularity of my heart beat on any particular day.   Studies have shown the process stimulates the formation of collateral blood vessels in the heart by stimulating the release of nitric oxide.  Collateral arteries are small blood vessels that open and create a detour for blood to flow around blockages in major arteries.

EECP has been the route to go for me right now…

It requires NO surgery.

It is less risky.

It is less pain.

It is performed on an outpatient basis.

It is lower cost.

AND… I KNOW it will work.  I have less angina and take fewer nitro in the end.  The success rates of clinics that I researched range from 80 to 90 percent.

I could go on about EECP.  I could go on about heart disease and women.  I know it can get overwhelming and maybe even mind-numbing when people talk about their medical history.  I would like you to know that if you are interested in more information on EECP, I have a complete post with more details and even tips and further insights on it.  I have a blog called thisoldheartblog where you can access my stories about heart disease and lessons from the heart. 

Incidentally, you will also find a follow-up to the EECP post called “Socks are the Voice of the Heart.”  A funny thing happened along my heart journey and all my EECP visits.  One of my tips for EECP on thisoldheartblog was to wear fun and colorful socks because that is what you see when you are lying on the table!  It adds some novelty to your treatment – both for you and your nurse.

After that post, I received several pairs of socks and I felt the sender’s compassion and caring every time I looked at my feet.  Now I feel that SOCKS are the perfect accessory for EECP!  And for everyday life!   (Reveal Socks!)

This has been my “heart journey.”  Sara Teasdale said.  “I make the most of all that comes and least of all that goes.”  SO, Coronary Artery Disease, in a way, added to my life and gave me the most beautiful gift of all.  I now have the full awareness of my last 60-some years of life in the best possible way, with love from people that I have met along the way.  They have lived, laughed, cried, loved, and smiled with me.

I continually bless the present by being mindful of the NOW.

Please remember to TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEART. ♥

Click to view a brief heart story:
My Heart Story

10 Comments on “Her Story, Her Heart”

  1. I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes, not sad, but filled with the admiration of the raw emotion that you have shared with all of us, your huckelberry friends. Thank you, HAP.

  2. I couldn’t wait to read your blog this morning. A “gut-personal” story of your journey that has impacted your life and those around you. Only you know the impact that it has caused in your life, but you are able to relay those events so wonderfully to all of us cheering you on! But, most impressively, you cheer everyone else on…Thank you for that gift. Congratulations once again for participating in such an “impact able” ( is that a word?) event.

    • Thank you, Elaine. I wish I had a written transcript of the questions the story generated. The answers given by the cardiologists were so informative and insightful to me and the audience. I learned far more than I ever thought I would. I must go next year – and sit in the audience this time.

  3. Hi Sharon,
    I wish I could have been in the audience hearing your story…I am at least glad I could read it. THANK YOU for being so open and honest about your life, as so many people learn from you and what you have learned!!!You have taken every problem and looked at it as an opportunity to grow and better yourself!!! INCREDIBLE story!!!!!

    • Ron, I was not sure if I should approve and moderate that comment! It is over the top and I am certain that comment does not fit me, but it is so touching and thought-provoking. Then I started thinking about the physiological implications if our hearts were truly made of gold. Yes, I said physiological! I thought of the mechanical heart, the LVAD and even the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz – I think I could write a blog about “a heart of gold.” THANK YOU for starting my day off with a smile.

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