Straight from the heart . . .

Straight from the heart . . .

What is the first step toward heart health?

Know your numbers!  But, not only what the numbers are ... but what those numbers mean!

On the third Thursday of each month, you will find me greeting women, and men, as they come to the Community Resource Center for a heart health risk assessment.  And, each month, you will find me somewhere encouraging women, to take advantage of this free service!   I'd love to see YOU there!

 

I wasn't a bit surprised!

One of the things that has really helped me with my recovery has been the opportunities to share my story with people, especially other women.   I've had a "Joan of Arc" complex since childhood and this has become my new crusade ... to help women prevent this from happening to them and to teach their children how to live heart healthy for life!

 

Recently, I was interviewed by Tracey Roman and Emily Wyatt at Fort Mill Magazine  about my heart attack and ongoing recovery.  Please listen and share this with your friends, family and co-workers.  Remember, 80% of heart disease can be prevented and yet one in three women will die from it this year.  We need to be better informed, better educated and better equipped to change those morbidity odds!

 

 

As I listened to the interview, I thought about my first day of cardiac rehab.  Honestly, I wondered if I could get through 36 of these sessions.  I wondered if, during the sessions, I would have another heart attack.  

 

What got me through 12 weeks of cardiac rehab?  

 

In addition to my absolute determination to be around for a very long time, I can say that participating in cardiac rehab in a hospital and knowing a professional staff  was constantly monitoring my vitals made all of the difference in the world for me.  I don't believe that I would have had nearly the success on my own as I did by being a part of this program.  In fact, I'm sure of it.

 

There were days I didn't want to get out of bed and I certainly didn't want to exercise.  When one of the cardiac rehab nurses told me that about a third of patients who start cardiac rehab don't finish it, I dug in my heels and became very committed to not only finishing the program but continuing the momentum on my own.  The cardiac rehab staff's encouragement was invaluable.

 

So, when I recently learned that PMC's cardiac rehab received national accredidation through the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, I wasn't surprised at all.  This is the only national certification of its kind and speaks volumes of the program.  From my experience, I would say what makes this program so successful is the compassion and commitment of the nurses who help patients transform fear of failure into hope of accomplishment.

 

Another wonderful thing is becoming a reality as a result of the interview and the experience with cardiac rehab.  The details are still being worked out, but my desire to get this message out to women is taking shape and I am looking forward to a new opportunity to help make a difference in someone's life!   Talking is one of the things I do best and serving my community is one of my sincere passions.  If you have a group that you would like to schedule a presentation, please send me an email or give call me at 803-524-5671!  

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

RIP, Michael

One of my favorite actors has died.  Michael Clarke Duncan passed away yesterday at age 54 while in the hospital recovering from a July 13 heart attack.  Who can forget his stirring performance in The Green Mile or the way he made you laugh in the Whole Nine Yards?  His fiancee, Omarosa Manigault, actually performed CPR and resuscitated Duncan and, almost two months later, doctors were still performing tests to determine why his heart stopped.

 

I remember when I was a kid, age 54 seemed old.  Now that I'm 50, I know just how very young that is!  There is nothing like hearing that someone has died after a heart attack that it makes you pause and give thanks for the recovery you have experienced because so many don't survive.

 

To put it in perspective, let's look at some facts from The Heart Foundation:  

 

  • "Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, claiming approximately 1 million lives annually.
  • Every 33 seconds someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease which is roughly the equivalent of a September 11th-like tragedy repeating itself every 24 hours, 365 days a year.
  • More die of heart disease than of AIDS and all cancers combined.
  • By 2020, heart disease will be the leading cause of death throughout the world.
  • This year more than 920,000 Americans will have a heart attack; nearly half of them will occur without prior symptoms or warning signs.
  • 250,000 Americans die annually of Sudden Cardiac Death – 680 every day of the year.
  • One-half of the victims of Sudden Cardiac Death are under the age of 65.
  • An estimated 80 million Americans have one or more types of heart disease.
  • Currently about 7.9 million Americans are alive who have had a heart attack.
  • Women account for just over half of the total heart disease deaths in the United States each year, although many women continue to think of heart disease as a man’s disease.
  • Under age 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal.
  • 8 million women in the US are currently living with heart disease; 35,000 are under age 65. Four million suffer from angina.
  • 435,000 American women have heart attacks annually; 83,000 are under age 65; 35,000 are under 55.
  • 267,000 women die each year from heart attacks - six times more than the number of women who die from breast cancer."

 

Sobering statistics, aren't they?  Being one of those statistics, I have taken my heart attack and recovery very seriously.  While my issues with cholesterol are predominantly genetic, I will still do everything within my power to prevent  further damage to my heart.

 

I started this blog when I began cardiac rehab some 12 weeks ago.  This Thursday will be my last session with the group at Piedmont Medical Center and I will tell you, personally, that this is an exceptional program.  I'm not the only one who thinks so because they have receved national accredidation and the nurses on this team were also recently honored.  Anyone who survives a heart attack should complete this program if at all possible.  Today, since I "graduate" this week, I was put through a walk test and we reviewed where I was three months ago to today's results.  To witness the progress that I've made, to feel better than I have in some time, to have more energy and to know that I've been given a second chance at life makes me very determined to stay on this path.

 

I want to be able to share my story with other women to help them from becoming one of those statistics.  I've been very privileged to participate in a recent series of television and radio commercials for PMC's Vascular and Heart Center.  I was tickled pink to be asked to voice those commercials since I know, first-hand, what an excellent program they have and owe my life to it.  Here are the links so you can view them and, hopefully, pass them along to your friends to bring awareness about heart disease.

 

Piedmont Medical Center Cardiac Survivor Linda Caldwell 

Piedmont Medical Center Cardiac Survivor Ruby Gunn

Piedmont Medical Center Cardiac Survivor Frank Pruette

 

I've also been very grateful that Fort Mill Magazine has been sharing my blog with their readers and I will be interviewed for their podcast on Wednesday to share my story.  The notes of encouragement I've received and the opportunities for me to help women understand the importance of this issue have been so instrumental during my recovery.  I appreciate the kind words more than you know.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

Celebrity's heart attack gets national attention!

We all heard the news this past week about Rose O'Donnell, age 50, suffering a heart attack.  When you have a heart attack at this age, like I did, the first thing people say to you is that "you are too young" to be in here for this!  Considering that heart disease can start developing in your twenties and thirties, unfortunately, we aren't too young.

 

While you hate to hear of anyone experiencing this, one thing we know is that when it happens to a celebrity, it makes national news and that, in turn, can grab everyone's attention.  In Rosie's case, she first thought the pain and soreness she was experiencing was from when she had helped (in her words) "enormous woman struggling to get out of her car/ she was stuck," while Rosie was walking through a parking lot.  Honestly, when you reach a certain age, you have more aches and pains; it takes us longer to recover when we over do it.  

 

And, like most women, Rosie kept pushing through her day.  How many of us do this?  In my case, I had always measured pain against giving natural childbirth (twice!).  If it didn't hurt as bad as that, I could make it!  Needless to say, I have a whole new benchmark for pain after the heart attack!

 

Once Rose's symptoms increased to include nausea, vomiting, being hot, and having clammy skin, she thought this might be something more ... perhaps she was having a heart attack.  She remember seeing the Bayer Aspirin commercials.  She popped the pills and now says that's what saved her life!   Even after all of this, though, she still had not called 911 or gone to see a doctor!  Like a lot of women, she probably thought, "not me!"

 

It wasn't until the next day that she went to a cardiologist who, after doing an EKG on her, sent her to the hospital to have a stent put in.  Her LAD was 99% blocked ... the area nicknamed "the widow maker."  I would venture to say that it was more than aspirin that had something to do with her still being here today.

 

I actually watched the news story on this while I was at cardiac rehab.  The nurses immediately turned up the volume and we were all kind of amazed that Rosie admitted she really didn't know the symptoms of a heart attack in women and that she didn't call 911 after taking the aspirin.  

 

It really made me stop and wonder how many more women there are out there just like Rosie? Women who push through the pain, are in denial that it could be them, who don't know the symptoms or what to do.   How many of have symptoms but they are so closely compared to those of menopause or the flu or we think of how it presents in men ... that we just don't think "heart attack!"  I knew the symptoms of a heart attack and still thought my symptoms were something else since we were all down with the flu.  It wasn't until the cold sweats and the pain became disabling that I came to that conclusion.

 

According to a letter written by a volunteer for WomenHeart.org, "The latest data show that only one in five women believe heart disease is their greatest health threat, and 46 percent -- nearly half -- say they would do something other than call 911 if they were experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack."

 

We need to change that!

 

Recently, I received this wallet card from Piedmont Medical Center.   I would suggest that you print it and put it in your wallet.  It is essential that we educate women because heart disease kills MORE women than all of the cancers combined INCLUDING breast cancer!  

 

 

The next time you are at a gathering with your female friends, or at a meeting at work, look around at the women in the room.  For every third women, I want you to visualize their headstone.  That is our reality, ladies!  One out of every three women will die from heart disease.  If it isn't you, it could be your mother, your sister, your best friend, your old college roommate! 

 

Share this blog with all of your female friends, family members and co-workers.  If heart disease runs in your family, talk to your doctor and learn how you can PREVENT this from happening to you!   Do it for yourself, do it for your family!

 

 

Indigestion or something else?

Upon my discharge from the hospital I was told, rather emphatically, to report any unusual or concerning symptoms to my cardiologist.  The challenge is now to know what constitutes "unusual" so, as I am prone to do, I asked that question from one of the nurses in cardiac rehab.  A simple answer was that if I experience any symptom or episode that makes me flashback to the heart attack, that would be time to call ... just to be sure!

 

Over the last two weeks, I've been struggling with continuous indigestion and just haven't experienced the same energy.  There may be a number of factors, considering all the meds I'm now on between the heart issues and the osteoarthritis.  Four meds at breakfast, five at night.  So of course, I rationalized it to all the meds or too much spicy food.  It has gotten better but, since that heartburn and pressure reminded me of the symptoms I experienced during my heart attack, we decided it was time to call the cardioligist who immediately brought me in and did an EKG.  The test came out well and the next step was a stress test to make sure there's no blockage where the stent was placed.

 

I do believe the "stress test" must be a double entendre.  With the arthritis, my ankles and left knee aren't in the best of shape and treadmills are not my friend.  We used to enjoy long walks but I haven't been able to do that for a few years now.  Understandably, I was stressed about the stress test because of the impending flare-up to follow afterwards.  The 15 minutes I spend in rehab on a treadmill is very reasonably paced, taking the arthritis into consideration because pain and swelling equals joint damage for me ... something I have been working very hard to try and prevent.

 

If you've ever had an exercise stress test, you know what I'm talking about.  When they told me that they needed to get my heart rate up to 145 (based on my age, height, etc), I thought "oh boy, this is gonna get interesting!"  Needless to say, the ankles didn't hold up so they gave me an injection to speed up the heart rate.  That was quite an experience and the fatigue that hits you comes on strong and rapid ... but fades pretty quickly as well.  Since you can't have any caffeine before the stress test you're encouraged to get some after this injection to restrict your blood vessels. The experience left me a little nauseated, so I was earger for a soda!  

 

I wish my ankles and knees would have held out because heart-wise, I was holding up pretty well ... which was very encouraging!  I truly believe everything is fine with my heart and I'll get the diagnosis from the cardiologist this week.  All of this got me thinking.  Now that I am a two weeks away from completing cardiac rehab sessions, what do  I need to keep in mind from this point on?  First of all, I don't think the "rehab" ever ends.  For me to live a heart-healthly life, that is now a lifestyle!

 

Here are a few tips from a terrific online resource I found at WomenHeart.org:

 

  • Stay on top of routine and follow up appointments. Regular check-ups help your doctor monitor your heart health and detect signs of disease progression.
  • Prepare for your doctor visits in advance. Write down your questions and concerns, any symptoms you are having and any changes in medications you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal and vitamin supplements.
  • Work to reduce your risk factors. This will help prevent or delay future heart problems.
  • Know your numbers. Keep track of your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels through routine screenings or as recommended by your health team.
  • Pay attention to your symptoms. If they become more frequent or severe, contact your doctor right away. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1. Never drive yourself to the hospital; your symptoms could worsen while you are behind the wheel.
  • Stick with your treatment plan. Follow your heart team’s recommendations and take medications as directed. If you experience side effects, tell your doctor. You may require a dose change or a medication change. Ask specifically for something to help relieve the side effects.
  • Write down questions or concerns you have for your health care provider. Prioritize your questions and concerns. Be sure to take the list to the office or the clinic. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something your doctor tells you.
  • Bring a family member or friend with you. The stress of a medical visit sometimes makes it easy to miss important information. It is a good idea to bring a family member or trusted friend with you to your appointments. They can listen, help ask questions, take notes, and provide emotional support.

 

One of the tips I have to remind myself of constantly:  "Know there will be good days and bad, so don’t beat yourself up or overdo it."   

 

I am, honestly, still working on that one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heart disease ... preventable? Really?

NOTE:   Articles contained in this blog are not intended as medical advice.  Please consult your personal physician regarding any changes to your health regimen.

 

Every Thursday is “education day” in Cardiac Rehab.  So, while we do our workouts, we watch informative videos on what we can do – now that we have had a cardiac episode – to prevent further occurrences and to live healthier and longer lives.  After watching several of these, I began thinking about how much better people could be if these lifestyle changes were embraced earlier in life and what that impact could be.

 

For instance, were you aware that 80% of heart disease is preventable?  Heredity aside, when that sinks in and you understand that there are things that we can do to avoid developing this fatal disease, we ask “how?”  These are all things you hear over and over again.  Quit smoking (or never start), maintain a healthy weight, eat a heart healthy diet, and exercise regularly.  The recommendation for exercise is 30-minutes of cardio routine, five days per week, and strength training.  You don’t have to join a gym but you do need that same kind of commitment!

 

As a child, I’m sure my first word must have been “why?”  People who know me well know that I am a research maven.  During my summer vacation, it wasn’t unusual to see me with encyclopedias spread out across my bedroom floor looking up answers to my “why”.  When my father told me to never start smoking, I (of course) asked “why?”   So, he took some of my grandmother’s medical books (she was a nurse) and showed me images of healthy lungs and damaged lungs from smoking.  I believe between that visual and the fact that my parents led the example by not smoking are the reasons I never even tried it. 

 

I believe in giving the why we should do these things and there is plenty of information out there about heart disease in women, but let’s highlight a few:

 

  • Heart disease kills almost twice as many women as all cancers combined, including breast cancer.
  • Heart disease claims the lives of 65,000 more women than men each year.
  • Heart disease can start to develop even in your 20s or 30s.
  • From 1989 to 1996, sudden cardiac death climbed 31 percent among women ages 15 to 34.

 

Read that first bullet point again.  Twice as many!  Yet, it seems to me, that we don’t see nearly the emphasis on heart disease as we do cancer.  And, again, 80% of it CAN BE PREVENTED!  What if we turn our focus and channel our efforts into prevention ... not only for adults, but we start with our children ... wouldn’t that address a lot of our problems with heart disease, diabetes and obesity?

 

One of the Bible verses we learn early on is from Proverbs 22:6.  “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

 

While most teach that this applies to developing the child’s character and to their religious training, what if we extend this to their health?  Growing up with a parent battling hypertension and heart disease from an early age, we all followed his diet.  As a teen and adult, it hasn’t been difficult for me to make adjustments since most of my diet already follows that path.  I’m thankful for my “training as a child” due to Dad’s health issues because my children were raised the same way and are teaching their children to eat healthy and to stay active. 

 

As I’ve mentioned before, if I had to change anything it would be reducing the packaged foods I used to prepare meals while the children were growing up.  With the cost and convenience for a working mom, I totally understand.  By adding fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizing the wrong snacks and fast food, and reading those labels, you can teach your child how to be healthy for life.

 

I used to joke that while “men may be the head of the house, women are the neck.”  There’s truth to that, ladies.  As wives and mothers, we still set the example in our homes.  Teaching our children isn’t just words; that’s easy.  To train them on how to live healthier, WE have to live healthier. 

 

Take baby steps and make them part of the process.  For us, we understood (as children) what diet requirements Dad had to follow because Mom talked to us about them.  To this day, I don’t require a lot of salt on my food and as far as sweets go, I may enjoy one on a special occasion or holiday but I have no issue with feeling like I need a dessert after every meal.   Portion size is very important.  We actually use smaller plates and tend to eat less. As Americans, I believe the portion size is often our downfall.  We usually equate volume with value … we want “our money’s worth.”  When my husband and I eat out, we often split meals and just add a side salad, which saves calories and money!

 

Even though I grew up pretty much following a cardiac diet and made changes more than a decade ago to our diets again, once I had the heart attack I wanted to make sure I did everything to prevent further episodes.   My heart disease is predominantly hereditary and due to lack of more cardiac exercise, but I want to be here to see my grandchildren graduate college and start their families.  So, in addition to meeting with a nutritionist through cardiac rehab, I’ve done a lot of reading. 

  

One of the websites I have found particularly helpful is WomensHealth.gov.  Specific information about heart healthy eating can be found on this page If we women start the movement, train our children and (hopefully) turn the necks of husbands who may need to make lifestyle changes, we have just created a health care plan that actually results in a healthier life!

Ahhh ... the Many Benefits of Massage

NOTE:   Articles contained in this blog are not intended as medical advice.  Please consult your personal physician regarding any changes to your health regimen.

 

A few years ago, when I was trying anything to relieve the arthritis pain (especially in my neck and right shoulder) I would have a massage and it was a life-saver.  Without it, I couldn't have kept working as long as I did.  The more I learn about the health benefits of massage, the more I am absolutely dependent on that therapy, especially since my heart attack.

 

The benefits of massage for pain management are pretty obvious but there are so many more reasons to schedule sessions on a consistent basis.  When I asked my cardiologist about continuing massage therapy, he responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!"  There have been a number of things I've had to omit or limit but, thankfully, massage isn't one of them.

 

During one of my cardiac rehab sessions, the subject of massage came up and we were encouraged to continue (or for some, start) massage therapy.  Professional massage can actually slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure and, of course, relieve stress.   According to a report on Health.com (via CNN), physicans are making massage available for their surgery patients, since massage increases blood flow to muscles which help them heal faster.   People who suffer with migraines and fybromyalgia, even cancer patients, are encouraged to include massage therapy as part of their overall health plan.

 

We think of massage as a way to relax, and it is.  But, it also helps with mental alertness and improved attention.  Remarkably, massage also boosts your immune system, warding off those bugs.  Thinking back to the last year, it's the first one in many that I didn't have a cold or my (annual) bronchitis.  For those who struggle with melancholy, massage affects the brain and creates a feeling of well-being.  Some hospitals have begun offering massage to anxious patients  prior to surgery and to cancer patients undergoing chemo.

 

While we think of massage as being something you get at a fancy spa while on vacation, we should be thinking of it as a natural way to heal our bodies.  I used to think of it that way; now, I embrace it as a way to help my body better function and manage pain.  It is no longer a luxury for me, it's a necessity for living well.

 

Having shared all this, let me tell you that all massage is not created equal.  How can you find a professionally- qualified therapist?  You ask questions.  You visit their facility; is it clean?  Do you feel comfortable? Where were they certified?  What are their specializations?  Did they ask you for a medical profile first?   Does the therapist listen to you?

 

You may also find that you have to try different therapists to find the one that works best for you.  I am very blessed to have found a therapist that is experienced with pain management for arthritis patients and is very sensitive to my new heart issues, too.  I see this as a partnership, so find a therapist that you trust because if you are uncomfortable, you won't get the most out of it.

 

I truly believe between the cardiac rehab (which I am half-way through now) and the massage therapy, that I am improving and healing at a good rate.  My energy level is good, my thought process and concentration is better, and I just feel so much better.  Of course, getting that unblocked artery clear was a big contributor, too.

 

If you would like a referral to my massage clinic, just send me an email.  I don't want to turn the blog into a commercial, but I can send you a card for a reduced introductory session so you can try it for yourself.  

 

Thanks for reading and have a SUPER day!

The "Experiment"

 

 

In addition to the commitment to cardiac rehab, both supervised and on my own, there is the focus on heart healthy eating.  Since my "episode" on May 30, I've been even more aware of what I eat, when I deviate and (unfortunately) how that makes you feel afterwards.  I'm pretty careful about those deviations especially as they relate to cholesterol numbers!

 

In my last blog, I mentioned that I had been reviewing the ChooseMyPlate.gov website and wondering how a family of, say, four could fare according to the healthy standards our government has suggested.  It has been a while since I've had to shop for a family of four so this has been an interesting experiment for me.  

 

Back when the children were still at home, and actually making it for all the meals - you parents of adolescents know what I mean there - I was very methodical about my shopping.  First, I would sit down every Sunday with the coupon section of The Herald.  (Obviously, this was in the day before you could sign up for online coupons, too.)  I would then coordinate a menu for the entire week; taking into account their school lunches, additional meals on the weekend, snacks, you get the picture.  From that menu, I would plan my shopping, clip the coupons and try to stay on point once I hit the store.  Because the budget was usually tight, I shopped the specials and would go to a few different stores when it made sense to do so.   Now my challenge is planning meals for two and trying to not eat out as much.  It's not as easy as it sounds, especially when one of us has a heart issue and the other is a diabetic ... little challenge there.

 

When I was a kid, and we would hear our Mom in the kitchen say she had been "experimenting," it wasn't always a good thing.  There are several family dishes that my mother excels at but she will admit she was never taught to cook.  I believe my Dad once said she could burn water.  Growing up, if I wanted to go somewhere or get a little spending money, all I had to do was make Dad a pan of biscuits (aka catheads) close to my Grandma Rosa's and I was golden!  (We actually dug some of my mom's biscuits out of the trash once during a game of Army to use as missiles. Very effective on the neighbor kids!)

 

The experiment I've been talking about isn't one to dream up a new recipe to make Spam look appealing to a 10-year old, but in figuring out how a family of four can feed their families in such a way that will benefit their overall health ...  according to the government's initiative to help us do so.

 

You can find the Sample Menus for a 2000 Calorie Food Pattern here: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/Sample_Menus-2000Cals-DG2010.pdf   (It's a PDF document so you can save it or print it off to use, if you'd like.)

 

I took the seven-day plan, just as they have it here, and taking into account where items could be used in multiple recipes on the menu, as well as assuming that the staple items would already be in your fridge or cabinet (e.g, tea bags, brown sugar, margarine, etc) and trying to shop the specials or store brands as much as possible, I've come up with the basic cost to buy the foods needed to  fulfill this plan for a family of four.  (Now, this does not account for all you super-couponers out there ... but every bit helps, right?)

 

It came out to roughly $283.00 a week.  Now, that is not including any other items you have to buy for your family like toilet paper, shampoo, tooth paste, detergent, diapers, nothing for the family pooch, not a thing except for the basic foods needed to make everyone of these recipes AS SUGGESTED on this seven-day plan.

 

I don't know about you, but if I add in the other things that you have to buy to run a household plus the pain reliever needed after I've seen the cash register total, I don't know how parents could do it!  When you stop to consider that the median household income for families in York County is about $44,539.00 ... how does Washington DC expect families to follow their healthy eating plan?  Especially when you consider the fact that the government hands out subsidies to the very groups that manufacture all the prefab food that everyone keeps saying is bad for us?  

 

So, if a young family of four spends $283.00 a week - again, not counting anything but the food for the menu - and not counting holidays or special occasions - that comes to $14,716.00 a year just in those foods items.  That is 33% of the family's gross income for the year.  

 

And, then I think of the elderly trying to budget on a limited income.  According to the Senior Hunger Report Card, about 8.3 million seniors nationwide face the threat of hunger.  That is a 78% increase since 2001 and a 34% increase since the start of the recession back in 2007.  By the way, they evaluated the country's performance in reducing food insecurity and eradicating hunger and gave the U.S. an overall grade of F.

 

The Choose My Plate plan is a great initiative ... a lot of thought went into it ... and it would certainly benefit all of us as a country if we all ate healthier.  Wow, a health care plan that actually CARED for our health.  

 

Share with me how you handle this in your family.  

 

 

 

More veggies and fruits, please!

This week, I reached a milestone.  I have successfully completed one month in cardiac rehab, incident - but not completely whine - free.  I have two more months to go!  I did learn that a lot of people who begin cardiac rehab after an "episode" like mine don't complete the prescribed three months.   Some days it's a little tough; you don't want to get out of bed, you don't want to do anything.  Then I think of all the reasons why I want to be around for a very long time, I put on my exercise togs and get my fanny to PMC.

 

In my last Blog, I wrote about the DASH diet.  Because of my family history of heart disease, I pretty much grew up on that diet and except for a period of deviations, have followed it most of my life.  The period when I didn't follow it religiously, quite honestly, was when I was raising my two children.  It was a matter of economics and, candidly, convenience.  If I had to do it over again, I would change a few things while they were young.

 

What would I change, if I could go back?  I would shop the way I do today, even if it meant some sacrifices on other things to do it.  I kept vegetables and fruits in the house, and sweets were a minimum, but packaged and processed foods ... those should have been at a minimum.  When you are trying to shop on a budget, those latter items are a (seemingly) godsend to parents. Inexpensive, easy and quick to prepare and you don't have to do a lot of thinking about mealtime at the end of a very long day when there is homework to be done and baths to get!

 

I'm convinced that it is the combination of those things, as well as our tendency to "grab something in the drive-through" on the way home after dashing from soccer practice to ballet class to (finally) home" that is contributing to the overweight issue we have in our families.  Add to that the fact that when we are home, we spend time in front of the television, computer, iPads, and we probably eat too much at night ... or at least ... too much of the wrong things at night.  People are often amazed that, for the better part of the last decade, Bill and I eat our large meal in the middle of the day and then something very light at night.  I love a small salad with grilled chicken and some fruit at night ... or perhaps one of my omelets!  

 

Our government has a very well-thought out plan for all of us to eat by.  I wonder, if a family of four makes a meal plan and buys groceries according to the My Plate plan, how much would they spend a week on average?  Now, I realize that the place you shop could influence that total but even at the cheapest store you could go to ... what would that bill look like?  I think I may do a little research and write about that next week!

 

In the meantime, you can learn all about the My Plate plan at ChooseMyPlate.gov

It's a great website, good information, everything we know we NEED to do.  But I can tell you that when my family was younger, that would have been a struggle to do financially at times.  Since I did not inherit my parent's green thumbs for gardening, that wasn't a option.  Plus, when would I have had time to hoe the garden?  Thankfully, my children grew up healthy, no major illnesses and very few minor ones.  They both enjoy a variety of foods today which includes a lot of vegetables and fruits.

 

We hear a lot of talk about the obesity problem in a our country.  Have you ever just sat on a bench and watched people go by and counted the people, young and old, who walk by who would (by medical standards) fall into that category?  It is astounding!   It's like watching time-bombs walk by ... the potential for high blood pressure (even in young people), heart disease, diabetes ... is so apparent.

 

A few months ago, I saw this documentary on HBO called, "The Weight of the Nation."  Taking this information into account, along with the lack of exercise we get, and we have a health crisis on our hands that is not going to be solved by any new health care plan unless we get to the heart of the matter.  Please take a moment to watch it and share it with your friends and family.

 

We didn't get into this situation overnight, and we won't get out overnight;  but, if we do the right things, we can solve this problem!  We need to do it for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren!

My one-month anniversary!

 

The last time I celebrated a "one-month anniversary" it was during a period of young puppy love.  If you remember those days, you were all giddy because you had been going steady (now "going out"?) for a whole month and that had to mean true love.  Oh, those were simple times, weren't they?

 

I found myself actually getting a little giddy on June 30 - one month after my "episode."   We spent four days that weekend with friends and family ... the perfect way for me to celebrate surviving the heart attack.  But, you see, I don't actually want to just SURVIVE after this incident ... I want to THRIVE from it!

 

Cardiac rebab continues to go well.  I still have to work out within the restrictions of the arthritis but this week I saw something I haven't seen in a while.   Before my forties, I never weighed more than 110 lbs. (excluding two pregancies, of course).   But, the forties came (and went) and with it a more sedentary life-style.  I sat all day at work, was exhausted when I got home and sat some more.  I loved to take long walks with my husband but as work and life demands continued to grow, our time for those long walks lessened ... at least, that became my excuse.  While chasing and playing with grandchildren gave me some much-needed exercise, it still wasn't enough.  Add to that hormonal change and stress, I managed to gain about 40 lbs during that decade.

 

I'm glad I've been careful about my diet ... so that is one redeeming factor.   I've been able to maintain my weight between 145-150 lbs which, for my build, is still a bit too much and with my health issues, definitely too much.  I am happy to say that after four weeks of cardiac rehab, I saw a definite waist line!  May not sound like much to some but it's very motivating!  I haven't lost any weight but I am losing inches and I'll take it!

 

When other women hear that I had a heart attack at age 50, they all want to know details.  What symptoms did I have ... did I have any idea that I was a potential candidate for one ... what can they do?   All very good questions.  First of all, you need to see your doctor, the person who knows your medical and family history best.  Find out what your cholestorol numbers are and work out a plan with your doctor and follow it.  If they tell you to change your diet, exercise more, stop smoking, control your stress ... FIND A WAY TO DO IT!

 

As for the symptoms, I had all of them (see my previous blog).  Since I had a virus just prior to the heart attack, I didn't connect the dots until I was out of the hospital ... but they were all there.   Yes, I did know that I had a lot of the risk factors primarily because of our family medical history; unless by some miracle genetics skipped me then I was definitey a candidate.  Knowing that, I should have done more to prevent it which is why I am now writing this Blog ... to help other women not go through what I did or possibly, worse.

 

Now, addressing the "what can women do" question I get.  Here's some great information from the Mayo Clinic:

"Although the traditional risk factors for coronary artery disease — such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity — affect women and men, other factors may play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. For example:

  • Metabolic syndrome — a combination of fat around your abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high triglycerides — has a greater impact on women than on men.
  • Mental stress and depression affect women's hearts more than men's. Depression makes it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow recommended treatment, so talk to your doctor if you're having symptoms of depression.
  • Smoking is a greater risk factor for heart disease in women than in men.
  • Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease in the smaller blood vessels (small vessel heart disease)."

 It's like my Mamma always said, "You better take care of yourself because nobody else will!"  Amen!

Cardiac Rehab: Week Three - WHEW!

It's educational day on Thursdays during cardiac rehab.  This is where you watch videos on heart attacks, high cholesterol, heart health, etc., while you exercise.

 

One of the things that I learned during these video sessions are the five signs of a heart attack in women.  I knew about most of them, but there was one that didn't register as a symptom at the time.

 

Quite coincidentally, about four days before my "episode" I was deathly ill with a virus.  The kind of virus that leaves you not knowing which end is up, if you know what I mean.  I also remember, very distinctly, having severe pain between my shoulder blades, sweating profusely and being weak as water.  Not unusual, after all, I had not kept anything in or down for almost a week.  I thought it was just the virus.

 

After seeing last week's video and doing some more reading, I now believe that during that long weekend of the virus, I was also having symptoms that would have otherwise alerted me to the possibility of a heart attack!  I just didn't realize it because like a lot of women, I thought I just had the flu or something else and kept going.

 

Since heart attack is the leading cause of death among women, here are the FIVE SIGNS OF A HEART ATTACK that we gals need to know!

 

Heart Attack Signs in Women*

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

If you have any of these signs, don’t wait more than five minutes before calling for help. Call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

 

Just check every one of those signs above and that's what happened to me on May 30!  I don't want to ever go through that again for as long as I live.  And, as long as I live, I want to make sure other women know how to take care of themselves to prevent this!

 

Last week, I also met with the nutrionist at PMC.  Because I grew up in a family very predisposed to heart disease, I had grown up eating very close to a heart healthy diet myself.  Bill and I further changed our eating habits about 10 years ago to include no canned foods (except for canned tomatoes for cooking) and no packaged foods.  Now from time-to-time, those things may slip into our diet but as a rule, they aren't even brought into the house.  When you flip the packages over and see the sodium content, you'll be amazed.

 

I was encouraged to learn that as far as eating right, we had been doing a lot of right things for a long time.  That may explain the fact that my overall cholesterol (which had historically always been high) was not at the time of my heart attack.  Now that little fact surprised even me!

 

What was out of whack were the LDL (aka bad cholesterol) and the HDL (aka good cholesterol)!  Like, way out of whack.  I've always had a problem with those numbers.  The nutrionist explained why these numbers led to my heart attack.  Here's how he explained it to me in everyday terms.

 

Picture your cholesterol as a canoe ... travelling throughout your body taking oxygen, nutrients, etc.   The LDL (bad cholesterol) is the paddle that takes it to the various points in your body while the HDL (good cholesterol) is supposed to take it back to the liver to be broken down or dispelled.  In my case, I had a little too much of the bad and about half of the good that I needed to prevent a blockage.  Basically, I had a big, old clog!

 

So, ladies (and gents for that matter) what do you do TODAY to make sure you don't face the same fate I did?

 

Take care of yourself *
Heart disease is preventable. Here are Goldberg’s top tips:

  • Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to learn your personal risk for heart disease. You can also learn your risk with our Heart Attack Risk Calculator.
  • Quit smoking. Did you know that just one year after you quit, you’ll cut your risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent?
  • Start an exercise program. Just walking 30 minutes a day can lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Modify your family’s diet if needed. Check out these healthy cooking tips. You’ll learn smart substitutions, healthy snacking ideas and better prep methods. For example, with poultry, use the leaner light meat (breasts) instead of the fattier dark meat (legs and thighs), and be sure to remove the skin.

 

One of the other things I learned in the video was about the DASH diet.  DASH stands for "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" and really, with the health issues in our country, would be a good diet for young and old. Here's a link to more information about the DASH diet:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/dash-diet/HI00047

 

Now that is not to say that I don't have some of my favorite foods ... I do.  But it is very limited.  I might have one donut a month; if I eat Chinese food again it's like once a month.  If I have a Bo-time craving, it's one piece of fried chicken in a blue moon.  Everything within moderation!  

 

Hope this information helps you as much as it is helping me.  At age 50 I am certainly one of the youngest people at cardiac rehab and I can tell you I am also one of the MOST grateful to be there!

 

Ciao for Now!

 

* Source:  http://www. heart.org

Cardiac Rehab: Week Two - Check!

When you go through a life-altering event of any kind, it seems you spend a lot of time in stages of reflection.  You learn a lot about yourself and, as I have found, you ponder about the influences in your life that made you the person you are.  I have always believed that it is this personal make-up that helps determine how successful you will be in overcoming obstacles and recovering from that event.

 

My second week of cardiac rehab went pretty well, I think.  The follow-up visit with the cardiologist was very positive and I am beginning to feel like my old self-again.  One of the things they give you in rehab is a bit of homework ... that makes you reflect on yourself ... so they can learn more about where you are.  Your eating habits, for example.  How much you understand about coronary artery disease that lead to this event.  How you feel about what has happened to you.

 

As with any life-altering event, it isn't unusual for women (or men) to struggle with depression.  I can certainly understand why. It is more important than ever to maintain a positive mental attitude and there are days when that becomes the quest ... just to remain positive.

 

I remember my paternal grandfather always saying, "God helps those who helps themselves."  He quoted that like he was quoting Scripture and it wasn't until I was older and looked that up in the Bible that I found out that wasn't actually in there.  He further made his point by showing me beautiful Christmas cards.  The scenes on the front of the cards were exceptional and then he turned the card over.  The scenes on the cards were painted by disabled veterans.  Veterans without hands who painted with the brush held between their teeth or between their toes.  

 

The greatest example of strength, faith and determination come from my parents.  My father, who had a heart transplant more than 20 years ago, and my mother who has struggled with crippling rheumatoid arthritis since her early thirties.  Talk about life-altering.  When I have moments of self-pity, I think of those two ... I think of those veterans who painted so beautifully without hands ... and as a dear friend once told me, I "pull up my big girl panties" and get going again.

 

The real obstacle I face each day now is more related to the arthritis that holds me back.  If anything peeves me more it's the limitations from that because with the improvement in my energy level, I want to get out and do so many things.  For a gal who wasn't born with a "pace yourself" button, I'm having to learn.

 

It's on those days, when I get a little discouraged from being held back, that I remember what my paternal Grandmother said to me on my last visit with her before she passed away at age 97.   Her Cherokee ancestors were among those who hid in the North Carolina mountains and escaped the Trail of Tears.   She told me,  "Stouts (my maiden name) do NOT give up!"    

 

I have been given the precious gift of life again and I resolve not to waste it.  I've always been that "creative problem solver" and in this case, I'll find a way to do everything I need to so that I live a long, healthy life.  

 

 

 

Adventures in Cardiac Rehab - Day 2?

Why the question mark after the title?

 

Simply put, my official first day of cardiac rehab was on Tuesday.  That day was spent primarily completing paperwork, going through oritentation, and meeting the folks with whom I will be spending the next 12 weeks.  I did do a little exercise ... six minutes on a treadmill.  

 

Today was my first cardiac rehab workout.  I've decided to chronicle my experiences in my blog to keep track of my progress.  The first thing I realized is that  I have a lot of work to do!

 

 

They say "confession is good for the soul" so here goes.  For about the last 10 years, I have not done what Mamma told me years ago.  She said, "you better take good care of yourself, because nobody else will!"   She was so right; but it wasn't intentional.  First there was the battle with mitral valve prolapse that slowed me down. I spent five years working around that issue but in the process, I began sitting more and more.  At work, I sat all day long and, when I got home, I crashed on the couch.  Part of the MVP was battle with chronic fatigue and the one thing I learned is that fatigue begats fatigue.  Even with that we still went on walks and I was active with the grandchildren that came along.

 

A little over two years ago, I was able to walk the length of the National Mall in DC with my husband. We spent entire days walking around the city and in the museums.  I noticed subtle changes and then within a few months, I began to see more and more joints affected and I was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis.  Within six months of the diagnosis, sitting or walking for prolonged periods made knee and ankle joints swell and ache; repetitive motions like working for hours on a computer keyboard cause more pain and joint damage in my wrists, fingers and myneck.  So once again, exercise wasn't something I was excited about.  

 

I do miss those long walks and on our last trip to DC, where I had walked all day I could only manage a few hours.  I am not a person who likes limitations ... I've never liked being told I can't do something. I learned quickly that to have mobility, flexibility, and minimize pain that excercise had to be a part of my day.  So light yoga, stretching and my exercise bike have become things I need to keep on keeping on! Now after the heart attack (aka "my episode") my exercise routine has definitely gotten kicked up a notch!

 

When you particpate in cardiac rehab the first thing you do every morning is weigh yourself.  This is important because three to five pounds up or down could mean you are either retaining too much fluid or losing too much and either extreme could be a problem.  The cardiac rehab team then hook you up to a portable heart monitor, check your vitals and they monitor you the entire time.  

 

Then the routine begins.  For me, that meant 10 minutes on an elliptical bike, 15 minutes on a treadmill and 15 minutes on a recumbent stepper.  My first thought was how I would fair with the arthritis but when I met a 94 year-old man who was outpacing everyone else, that thought was replaced with a preference of a healthy heart; at least I would still be alive to be concerned about the arthritis.  Easy choice!

 

How did I do today?  I think pretty well.  It was a bit of a struggle at first.  Working at a pace that meets cardiac goals without causing a lot of joint pain is a balancing act.  I will admit that after having "my episde" I have had a little apprehension about shortness of breath or feeling any kind of  pressure in my chest or arm.  That is one reason why I am so grateful for PMC's cardiac rehab program.  I know that there are trained professionals monitoring me the entire time and as long as I don't make any alarms go off on the system, it's a good day!

 

For most of the summer, I will be going to cardiac rehab every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  In between, I'll continue exercising at home so keep up the momentum.  Who knows, maybe I'll have that bikini body back by August!  LOL

 

 

Embracing Life with Gratitude and Joy!

They say that when one faces death, your life often flashes before your eyes.  I've always thought that to mean that all of one's mistakes, sins or regrets are what you see ... the things you could have done ... the things you should have done.  In my own personal experience, it was quite different. 

 

I have, in my lifetime, had brushes with Death.  When I was born the doctors told my grandmother that the umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck and, since I was breach, they did not expect me to live. I was to be born dead.  Another time in my early twenties, when I became deathly ill from contracting Hepatitis A from eating a contaminated hot dog, the doctors said I was a day away from a body bag when a friend got me to the emergency room.  I know what it is to be so sick that Death would have seemed a relief.  But, God had other plans for me.

 

I've always wondered,  would I know if Death was near for me?  

 

Prior to last Wednesday, I had spent about four days in bed with an horrific virus.  I was weak, dehydrated and just not bouncing back very quickly.  On Tuesday, I felt much improved and was able to keep food down and had some strength back, but was experiencing constant pain between my shoulder blades; the result, I thought, from four days of an extreme illness.

 

Wednesday morning, I got up and resumed my regular routine (except for exercising because my energy was still lacking) but I managed to work on a few projects.  The pain wouldn't let up so I did some light yoga stretching, thinking it might be the arthritis kicking up.  The pain traveled to my chest and left arm and grew sharper; I broke out in an extreme cold sweat (despite the fact I had the air conditioning running and a fan pointed toward me); I grew short of breath and I knew this gripping pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Having had natural childbirth twice, I know how to focus and breath through severe pain ... but there was no relief in sight.

 

On my father's side of the family, heart disease is a given.  My grandfather, father and most of my uncles have all had heart issues in their early to mid-forties.  My father received a heart transplant 20 years ago when he was about my age.  We are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol and fighting it is a concerted effort. For five years, I struggled with Mitral Valve Prolapse -  which had been under control for the last several years - and knew that my profile and family history meant I was a good candidate to follow in their footsteps. Between being very aware of the family medical history and having had Red Cross training, I knew what was happening.  

 

So, what do you do when you are all alone and you realize you are having a heart attack?

 

I thought of all the things we would tell someone in a CPR class.  Stay calm.  Chew an aspirin.  (Pray.)   By the time the pain felt like someone was reaching into my chest cavity to rip it out, I could no longer walk, but instead crawled into my home office, yanked my cell phone from my desk and sent a text to my husband:  "911 help please call."   Breathing had become difficult ... talking was almost impossible.

 

While lying flat of my back, legs raised on a table, I practiced the circular breathing I learned to help control stress when I was struggling with the MVP.   I remembered an article I read years ago about making yourself cough during a heart attack.  (While this  isn't endorsed by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross, I was trying anything that came to mind.)

 

As I waited for the EMTs and my husband to arrive, remarkably, I wasn't focused on the past, on my mistakes or regrets.  Before me I saw the faces of my family, the people who are my life; my incredible husband, Bill, my two children and son-in-law, my parents, my brother and his family, and on the little angels who have brought more laughter and joy into my life than I have ever known, my granddaughters.  I thought not of the things I should have done but of the things I wanted to do before my time on this earth is up.

 

Was Death near?   I believe without a doubt, it was.   At one point, right before the EMTs entered the house and I could hear my husband's voice, I felt that Death was nearby, waiting.   This is now three times in my life that Death has been in the shadows, and now three times that God has decided it isn't time for me yet.  

 

A dear friend asked me if everything had really changed for me after this experience.  I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to the Good Lord for allowing me more time to fulfill whatever destiny I was intended for and to be with the family and friends who mean so much to me.  It wasn't until after I came home from the hospital that the true answer came.  

 

If I had to pinpoint one thing it would be that I take nothing for granted and it has been the simple things that has meant so much to me.  Seeing the sky.  Watching the birds outside my window. Cuddling with my grand-angels and hearing their laughter.    The touch of my husband's hand on mine.  Appreciating the love of friends and the kindness of strangers.  I find myself smiling ... a lot.

 

Back in the 1970s, there was a catch phrase used a lot.  "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  I can tell you that this is how I feel about May 30, 2012.    I started the day remembering my childhood hero, Joan of Arc, as I do each May 30 (it  was the day of her martyrdom) and I ended the day feeling like I had risen out of ashes.

 

To Megan and Sammie, the two EMTs who saved my life, to Brent and Dr. Mori at Piedmont Medical Center who was waiting on me at the cath lab and within 90 minutes had cleared the artery that was 100% blocked, put in a stent and had me in the hallway seeing my family's faces, to the ICU nurses who took care of me, prayed with me (Jenna)  and (Mario) kept a severe hematoma from making a bad situation worse ...  you all have my undying gratitude.

 

I am sharing this in hopes that it will encourage people to know their medical history, learn what to do if they find themselves alone in this situation, and to also embrace life with gratitude and joy!   

 

John Denver sang it well here ... so I will close with this.  

 

 

 

Little blue flowers in a mason jar.

I walked among the flowers yesterday.  Their fragrance and beauty brought back memories of a simpler time in life.  A time when I was young, running through a field of simple blue flowers with one idea in mind.

 

Mamma.  I would pick as many of these blue flowers as my little hands could carry and run into the kitchen where Mamma always seemed to be.   She would hug and kiss me with delight and then pull down an old mason jar, fill it with water, to proudly display her bouquet.

 

I was much older when I learned that my little blue flowers were weeds.  But to Mamma and me, they were a spring bouquet that symbolized a treasured love between us.

 

So, I took some time yesterday from my perfectly-synchronized errands to literally stop and smell the roses, and everything else in bloom at a local nursery.  For a moment, I just stood and closed my eyes and thought of Mamma and those little blue flowers.  On days when I'm missing Mamma more than usual, this is my therapy.

 

My mother has lots of sayings and one of my favorties has always been, "If folks don't bother sending me flowers while I'm alive, then don't do it when I'm dead and can't enjoy them."   I continue the tradition of making sure Mamma has flowers on special occasions, especially Mother's Day.  Even though I can afford beautiful bouquets of every kind in delicate vases, I would love to walk into a field, pick her some little blue flowers and place them in a mason jar for her kitchen window sill.

 

As a mother, and now grandmother,  I know so well that it is the small, loving gestures that touch your heart.  When one of our granddaughters hand me a "flower" picked from the yard, or a rock that "I need," or color me yet more refrigerator art, I know these are the things I will treasure when they are all grown.

 

Love you, Mom!

 

 

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