My first experience with heart disease was when my father had a heart attack at age 42. I was 14 years old. My second experience was when my father had a second -- this time fatal -- heart attack at age 57. I was 29 years old.

When I was 51, I was having my third experience with heart disease, only I did not know it. I was busy preparing for my daughter’s upcoming June wedding and thought the chest discomfort and tiredness I was feeling was a result of washing windows and stress. The pain got worse when I walked up the ramp from the parking lot into the hospital where I work.

After a couple of weeks, I made an appointment with my internist and surely thought I would get a muscle relaxer. Instead, I was given an EKG and put into the hospital for observation. Two hours later, I had an angiogram and 2 stents were implanted. My cardiologist said my heart problem was “taken care of” and that it was no doubt due to my family history. Cardiac rehabilitation was not recommended to me. I adjusted my diet, tried to exercise more, and got on with the wedding plans.

The wedding was beautiful and I proceeded with my life. One day in late July, I was carrying a basket of laundry and felt a tightening in my chest that wasn’t going away. I realized what might be happening so I called my doctor’s office. The receptionist directed me to the ER, where I saw a cardiologist. An EKG was performed right away. He suggested another angiogram and saw my stents were blocked with scar tissue. I had also had a heart attack. The doctors thought I was a good candidate for a procedure called brachytherapy, in which radiation is used to unclog the stent. It was supposedly a success and this time cardiac rehabilitation was prescribed. The combination of monitored exercise and education was beneficial to my physical and mental well-being.

In October of that year, I was on a “girls only” weekend trip and experienced some discomfort in my stomach and chest, but an antacid seemed to take care of it. That evening when I stood up from dinner, I had the same sensation I had earlier but now it was worse. I immediately took my aspirin and nitro spray and asked my friends to take me to the emergency room. I had an EKG and blood workup done. They decided my problem was stomach-related, so I was given some gastrointestinal medications and sent home.

Two days later, I saw my internist who said I should see my cardiologist in the ER. An EKG showed changes and I was taken to the cath lab to have an angiogram. In the end, my brachytherapy had failed and bypass surgery was recommended. I went straight to the operating room. The surgery was a success and I have since completed another session of cardiac rehab. I returned to my job and am doing well.

I am one of the fortunate. I live in a community that has excellent healthcare providers. I was quickly and accurately diagnosed. My internist and cardiologist work together with me to manage my coronary artery disease. No woman deserves less.

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