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Women and Heart Attacks - I Know you Have Heard the Sobering Facts - But Have you Really Heard Them?

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was looking up at her, struggling to understand what was happening. Her mouth was moving but I couldn't hear . . . the noise was loud . . . so loud. She was pretty, with blonde hair loosely pulled back from her face. I could see directly into her eyes which were clouded with concern. She lifted my head up, her hands cool to the touch . . . bent down to meet me, and spoke directly into my ear. "You're going to be fine. I'm going to put these headphones on you now to muffle the sound. You're in a helicopter . . . stay with us . . ." I then felt the jostling as we were lifted up to the sky. That is the last thing I remember before my world turned to black.

It's been three years and I'm still here! In remembering that Saturday morning I continue to be amazed. My symptoms had in no way sent out warning signals of an impending heart attack. I was just tired . . . ! I had been working a lot so it was perfectly explainable fatigue. My upper arms ached a little bit, but again, explainable, and nothing that a nice hot shower couldn't cure.

I am an interior designer and had been installing furniture in a model home that week, so my "symptoms" all made perfect sense. They made perfect sense to me, that is, until about 4:00 A.M., Saturday morning, when I woke up from a sound sleep for no apparent reason. Within minutes I became nauseous, short of breath, and was sweating profusely. I knew that I was in it . . .I just didn't know what "it" was! I was young, healthy, never had any chest pain, jaw or neck pain, no pain shooting down my left arm . . . even still, I knew that I was in real trouble, as in call 911 kind of trouble. It all happened so fast. Seemingly, without warning, I had entered into a world of terms and conditions that were foreign to me. Terms like LAD and RCA, angioplasty, septic shock and stents . . . words I knew existed, but for someone else. Certainly not for me.

Because life's biggest changes rarely give us an advance warning, I was caught unprepared in knowing how to react. In the days and months that followed, I experienced a myriad of feelings. I felt thankful . . . to God for answering the multitude of "beggy" prayers that had been offered up on my behalf . . .to my care givers whose compassion and giving hearts were such a gift . . . to my 'never-say-uncle' family and friends who held vigil by my bedside for days, refusing to give up on me. Yes. . . thankful, fearful, hopeful, wanting answers, NOT wanting answers . . . often engulfed in waves of anxiety and fear. Thankful I had seemingly beaten the odds, but angry that I was now included in a statistical bank I never asked to be a part of in the first place!

Though I didn't realize it at the time, the roller coaster ride of emotions I was experiencing was very common. My life had been interrupted, my innocence stripped away, I had been forced to suddenly come face to face with my own mortality . . . and mourn the loss of my health!

I am well aware that I am not the only one who has experienced a life altering, totally unexpected event in their life . . . but when it is you going through it, right or wrong, you feel very alone. In reality, my heart attack affected not only me, but family and friends alike. They too had been traumatized. Each of us had to find our own path, in our own time, that would take us to a place of understanding and acceptance of what had happened!

I completed a cardiac rehabilitation program and received a bright red T-shirt which announced to the world that I had indeed stayed the course. Most days, pen in hand, I transferred my inner most thoughts into my red leather journal. I poured onto those tear stained pages my feelings of gratitude along with fears and frustrations, all the while praying that I didn't die before destroying the evidence that I had so nakedly revealed. I searched unsuccessfully for articles from people who had undergone a similar experience to mine . . . looking for reassurances that I would be able to regain my life, that the feelings I was experiencing were normal, and that no, . . . I wasn't going crazy. I was on a perpetual quest for answers. As a 'surviver' I wanted to know why I was still here? What was my purpose?

I once read that when we need it the most, God's grace will come to us like tiny stitches in torn fabric. In March of 2005, nine months after my heart attack, there was, splashed across the front page of newspapers around the World, the controversial details of the Terri Schindler-Schaivo case. All were asking the same question. Should they, or should they not remove her life sustaining feeding tube. The Schindler family had been locked in a decade plus long legal battle with their son-in-law over the care and custody of their then, 41 year old daughter. Terri had suffered massive brain damage when she suddenly, at the young age of 26, collapsed at her home from what was described as a mysterious cardio-respiratory arrest for which no cause was ever determined. She was not on life support, she was not brain dead, but she was in a severe vegetative state from which, according to most doctors, she more than likely would not recover. Opinion polls were being taken. Individuals as well as special interest groups and religious organizations were getting involved, demanding that their voices be heard. It seemed to be the number one topic around water coolers across this country, and elsewhere. Conservatives and liberals alike were impassioned, taking staunch, unwavering positions.

I was vacillating back and forth between the parents views and the husbands position. That is until I happened to read what later proved to be, for me, life changing words from a newspaper interview with Rick Warren, author of the book, 'The Purpose Driven Life'. When asked his opinion on the Terri Schiavo case Rick Warren answered without hesitation. "The answer for me is clear," he said. "I am firmly against the removal of the tube. God put each of us here for a purpose, and that includes Terri Schiavo. We may never know or understand what her purpose is, but she has one. We all do. We are all necessary pieces of God's very large puzzle coming together in order to complete his plan. It's not about us . . . it's about him."

That March day was life changing for me. After so much searching I felt I had finally found the answer I had been looking for. It was alright if I didn't know my specific purpose in life, or how my 'piece' would eventually fit into God's overall puzzle. The self inflicted burden of responsibility I had been dragging around for so long was suddenly being lifted. What a tremendous feeling of relief!

It has been over two years since I happened upon that interview. Since then I have continued to make strides in regaining control of my life, no longer feeling like a victim. I view my heart attack as "a very significant event in my life", but no longer allow it to be the "main event."

Do I have the luxury of assuming that a headache is just a headache? That muscular aches, nausea or fatigue are just that, nothing more? Unfortunately no, . . . and the reality is that I probably never will again. But today I'm happy, healthy, and would like to think much wiser than I was three years ago. Many of the things I once felt were important aren't . . . and vice versa. I don't forget to tell the people I love, that I love them, and I do remember to thank God for each new day. I have learned how to not say yes when I want to say no, and I burn the designer candles and drink from the good crystal whenever I want! All of these are benefits I've awarded myself through age and the sum of my experiences . . . all of them.

The issues surrounding women with heart disease is very REAL. Sobering statistics have shown that one in three women will die from cardiovascular disease. Because their symptoms present themselves so differently, and so often go undetected, more women will die from heart related problems than from the next seven leading causes of death combined. I, like so many other women, had heard these statistics in the past, but obviously had never "HEARD" them!

Thankfully, great strides and many successes, have recently been made by the American Heart Association in an effort to significantly reduce disablity and death from cardiovascular disease. Our legislative leaders, most of which have been personally touched by this issue . . . either through a wife, mom, sister, daughter or friend . . . are now standing together and agreeing that heart disease research, prevention, and treatment for women needs to be a top priority!

Jeannene H. Edwards


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