Here's to Dads! – Start of the Trail
The journey started long ago but the fork in the road occurred on Friday, September 14, 2012.
Senior year at St. Norbert College was going great. I had new roommates, my own room, and a supportive soccer team helping to keep my head up after losing my mom six weeks prior to a blood clot.
I was spending the afternoon with my three roommates, snacking, relaxing, and goofing around in our apartment. I had a few hours before soccer practice so of course I was eating Oreos and leaping around like a not so elegant ballerina. It was after I landed during one of those leaps that I started to feel weird.
Suddenly I was extremely lightheaded and pain started to develop in my chest. I started sweating but I was so cold. That sleeve of Oreos I just ate, was threatening to come back up. As I sat and assessed my body, my arms started to feel like they were asleep. What was going on with me?
Minutes later I was laying on the tile bathroom floor trying to cool myself off. I checked my heart rate, that seemed fine, but that feeling in my chest and arms wouldn’t go away no matter how I position my body or how big of a breath I took in. I thought, “This was an anxiety or panic attack must feel like.” That made sense, it hadn’t been that long since my mom passed away and I was stressed out with balancing school, soccer, and making sure my Dad was okay. What would my Dad do in this situation? He used to be a first responder. So I called him. The words that he said saved my life. “Have your roommates take you to the hospital. If it is an anxiety attack, the doctors will help you figure out what to do if it happens again.”
The 10-minute ride to the urgent care in De Pere was dreadful. Upon arrival, I half slumped over and stumbled into the waiting room. When it was my turn to be examed the nurses did their thing and started asking about my symptoms, family history, and ran an echocardiogram. After the echo was completed the nurse said, “If I didn’t know better, it says you are having a heart attack, but the chances of that are one in one hundred thousand.” A heart attack? WHAT? Why would she even say that? That doesn’t happen to athletes. Heart attacks only happen to overweight older men. Right?
I was then transported by ambulance to the hospital where more tests were done and more questions were asked. I hadn’t been in the hospital since my mom passed away. I was suddenly terrified that I wasn’t going to make out of there alive. What would my dad do? Our family couldn’t take another hit. This couldn’t be it.
I was alone for a half-hour in the ER when my dad walked arrived. The look of fear on his face. The look of pain, of loss, but most off all LOVE was what I needed. I was suddenly a little kid again just wanting a hug from my dad to make all of go away. He has always been my hero. I had to make it through this. I had to fight for him, for my brother and sister, my niece and nephews, for my family. We are fighters! I choose the path of fighting. No matter what happened, I wasn’t going to give up.
After three hours in the ER, I was transferred to the ICU. They still couldn’t figure out what was going on with me at that time. They knew it was something with my heart but didn’t know exactly what. After 16 hours and countless tests, they decided it was time to physically go in and look at my heart via a heart cath. They discovered that I was in fact having a heart attack. At 21 years old, a senior in college, a college athlete, my superhero shield was dented. I had a 90% blockage in my left circumflex coronary artery. Because it was “only” 90% blocked I was given medication to dissolve the clot. My heart received a little bit of damage, but I was okay. I survived.
I am a survivor. My life is much different than it was 9 years ago. I am not longer able to play contact sports and when exercising it is suggested that I keep my heart under 170 beats per minute. Only a few years ago they believe my heart attack was caused by SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). It is an uncommon emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in the blood vessel in the heart. The scary thing about SCAD is that it could happen again at any moment. They also discovered that I have a hole in my heart from when I was born that could have aided in my cardiac episode and may need to be closed in the coming years. The theories are out there, but the fact is, I was lucky. Heart disease is the number one killer among men and women. Claiming more lives every year than all forms of cancer combined. In fact, every 80 seconds a women’s life is claimed by this silent killer.
9 years ago I found out I”m not a superhero, but I am a fighter. I am strong and fearless just like the powerful women that surround me every day and inspire me to keep going with a positive attitude. This is why I choose to share my story. I have chosen the path of resilience and education. I will continue to spread the message about heart disease for as long as I am able. In fact, 80% of all heart disease is preventable and we all need to start taking better care of ourselves to stop this silent killer. I hope my story has inspired you to talk to your doctor and start the conversation with the ones you love about heart disease and stroke.
To learn more about heart disease and stroke visit heart.org