Penny

OWS-PennyI was dancing through my life as the 46-year-old who everyone thought was 36. My job as a peace officer was tremendously stressful, but also challenging. I was one of only 3 women in the history of our facility who had ever become supervisor of forensic specialists. Then, as I was packing for a well-deserved vacation, the proverbial lightning bolt from the sky struck and changed my life forever.

The “heartburn” and “indigestion” I’d been experiencing for hours began to worsen and a strange ache spread to my jaw. As nausea set in, I was convinced that I was coming down with the flu. The best thing to do was to take a hot bath and go to bed. After a few minutes under the warm covers, I began to feel a bit better. Realizing that there was little time to waste, I sprang out of bed to resume packing. I barely made it to the bathroom mirror where I saw staring back at me a slightly recognizable creature with graying skin and almost black circles under her eyes. I called 9-1-1, and although I had no idea of what was happening to me, I told the operator I was having a heart attack. Almost 5 years later, I’m still haunted by the thought of what might have happened if I hadn’t listened to that small intuitive voice.

Despite the fact that some of the ER staff thought I was having a gallbladder problem, an ECG (electrocardiogram or EKG) was done and showed that I’d had a heart attack. Two days later, an angioplasty was performed and a stent inserted in my right coronary artery.

 

A male co-worker had suffered a heart attack 3 months earlier. As peace officers, we were both given yearly physical exams that were specifically tailored to detect problems with our hearts and lungs. I remember the doctors always “nagging” him about the risk factors we both shared. We were both smokers with high cholesterol levels, yet I received no counseling. I was one of the thousands of women who live under the false sense of security that our gender was our protection against cardiovascular disease.

 

Six months after my heart attack, symptoms began to reappear. A second angioplasty was performed with a second stent inserted. I then took the advice of my doctors, friends, and family and retired from my stressful job.

 

Today, I live much of my life in absolute gratitude. Although the diagnosis of coronary artery disease was initially devastating, I am so lucky to be one of the women who has survived. I’ve become an advocate for all women with heart disease and realize that it’s only through education that we will someday reduce our awful cardiac death rates.

 

People are shocked when they learn that I’ve had a heart attack. I smile and say, “Yeah, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.” My life indeed has new meaning, a renewed sense of wonder, and a strong new commitment to helping other women.

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


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