"I Didn't Know I Had a Heart Attack"
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Cardiac Rehab and Recovery
Two months after the attack, I began cardiac rehab -- a program of exercise, nutrition, and support to help my recuperation. Not only did it get me out of the house, but it gave me the reassurance I needed to start being active again. I saw gradual improvement in my strength and confidence, but later in the month I suffered a major setback after a near-fainting spell resulted in another trip to the ER. My arteries were in spasm and had closed up. No one knows why spasms occur, but after a year of trying different combinations of medications and supplements, my doctors concluded that my period and eating meat likely triggered the attacks.
Now I take eight medications and nine supplements each day to help keep my hormones and arteries in check. I swore off all meat, and that has helped me tremendously. And nearly a year after my initial hospitalization, I started exercising again. My doctor and I put together a plan that is slowly building up my endurance. I'm up to 40 minutes of running nearly every day. It's been a struggle, to say the least. I went from being able to do brutal 75-minute boot-camp classes to not being able to walk even halfway around our cul-de-sac. So even though I'm getting better, by my standards I'm not there yet.
To this day I'm dismayed by how little women know about heart disease -- and how little I knew as well. So I joined an organization called WomenHeart and attended the Mayo Clinic for training, and now I've made it my mission to help educate others. I speak to women's groups mostly, but sometimes strangers get my speeches too. Because carrying heavy things can still tire me out, I have a handicapped parking tag. Recently, after a visit to the grocery store, I saw a woman eyeing me -- and my hang tag -- in the parking lot. She angrily asked why I had parked there. I looked her square in the eyes and told her that I'd had a heart attack. She laughed in disbelief. On impulse, I pulled down my V-neck to reveal the 10-inch scar that bisects my chest. While she was apologizing profusely, I took the opportunity to give her a lesson about heart disease. I hope she drove away a little wiser.
To learn more about the unique way heart problems affect women, read our story about heart disease risks for young women.
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