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More than 10 years ago, I had terrible nausea and some pain in my right arm and shoulder that I had been ignoring for a few days. One day, I threw up violently but did not think "heart attack". My husband, however, wasn't taking any chances. He called the hospital right away to ask them about my symptoms. They suggested he bring me in as soon as possible. I have no memory of what happened from the moment I walked into the ER until I woke up in the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) several days later.

When I woke up, I had a nasal oxygen tube, wires attached to my body, and a heart monitor beeping by my side. A woman came into the room and explained that I was in the CCU because I had had a massive heart attack. When my cardiologist said I couldn't go home for a while and that I would need bypass surgery, I wasn't at all concerned. Years before, my brother's brother-in-law had bypass surgery and showed us the almost invisible scars on his legs where they took the veins. Being afraid of the surgery never entered my mind. It must have been the morphine that made me unaware of the dangers! The surgeon who discussed the bypass surgery was a friend of a friend and very handsome…how could I refuse?

About a month later, I had triple bypass surgery. That was depressing. I was often in pain and felt lonely being away from my family. Even when I returned home, it took a while for me to fully recover as there had been a lot of heart muscle damage.

I should have been more aware of my risk for developing heart disease. A few years before my heart attack, I saw a doctor for severe heartburn. She gave me blood tests, which revealed that my bad cholesterol (LDL) was elevated while my good cholesterol (HDL) was too low. She warned me I was "a heart attack waiting to happen" and suggested dietary changes, increased exercise, and that I stop smoking.

My father was diabetic and died of a heart attack in his early 60s. My mother had a massive heart attack in her 80s and lived only a few days after it. I should have known better. Why didn't I? Like so many women, I believed that heart disease was a man's disease and, as women, our hormones protected us. But now I know that more women than men die of cardiovascular disease each year. Isn't it time that we women become aware that we are the ones most at risk?

Filed in One Woman's Story > One Woman's Story

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