Heart disease was the last thing on my mind in 1999. It was my brother’s heart attack at the age of 37 that got me thinking. He had to go through surgery, his clogged arteries were stinted, he recovered and we all vowed to get checked out.
I went to the doctor immediately to get tested, my stress test came up negative with the exception of a heart murmur. I thought I was fine. The doctor reassured me that millions of people have heart murmurs since birth and never have an issue with it. This worried me… If that was true, why was I only hearing about this murmur now? Wouldn’t this have shown up before? Why was I not told about this before? Putting that irking feeling aside, I went about living my life.
The time came for another check up. The mysterious heart murmur was brought up again. This time the doctor referred me to a cardiologist; my brother’s cardiologist. Following through with her request, off I went for another stress test. This time, the cardiologist not only mentioned a murmur but wanted to follow up with an echocardiogram; an “ultra sound” for the heart. It was 2005 and I remember feeling a panic intermixed with denial. Women don’t get clogged arteries until after menopause and I was nowhere close to that, right?
I was wrong, it was official, I was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. My heart muscle was preventing the blood to flow properly through my heart, it was causing my mitral valve to leak and if not careful, I could die suddenly. WHAT!?!? I couldn’t believe it, I was a young women, only 40. The plan was to take medication, so the medication I took. The medicine was used to allow my heart to relax and expand more between beats thus allowing the blood to go through. No one would even know I had this disease that is either inherited or found in athletes. I was no athlete. My family had clogged arteries not HOCM. Obeying and trusting, I just went with the program and took my meds.
Then the medicine stopped working. My heart beat was 35” and I could barely stay awake. I thought my life was over… I was feeling weak, and could barely stay awake because my heart slowed to 35 beats per minute; half of what it is supposed to be.
In July of 2006, they inserted a pacemaker into my chest. Now I had a visual scar that told the world my heart was in trouble. In 2010, I began to feel weak and out of breath. The pacemaker’s battery was dying and needed to be replaced. This meant yet another scar. A year later and another echo performed and it was brought to my attention that my heart muscle was getting thicker and it was time to go high-tech. What did this mean? The procedure was called Septal Ablation and it was non-invasive; they go through the leg like an angiogram; they cause a controlled heart attack by injecting alcohol, the muscle dies and the blood can flow through. Viola! Scary, very scary, but a simple procedure and the surgeon was proven to be best around.
One thing that I have learned is never believe your life will be simple. Life is full of challenges and as it turns out, mine is no exception. Unbeknownst to me, my Septal Ablation was cancelled. While in the middle of the procedure, the surgeon found a clogged artery; the family link at last. The ablation procedure was cancelled. The plans had changed I now was scheduled in two days for full blown open heart surgery . I was nervous and full of anxiety. The surgeon placed a stent in my artery and a myectomy was performed; a piece of my heart was cut away allowing the proper blood flow. I was “fixed”. Four days later I was at home, in pain, and experiencing the worst feelings of my life.
I was conflicted. My ribcage was being held together with wire. I was scarred and bruised and yet I felt lucky, if it wasn’t for the ablation attempt, my 90% clogged artery may never have been found. No one was checking my arteries because “it doesn’t happen to women”. I had no idea. No one had any idea. My life could have ended instantly at a young age, but it didn’t.
As of last week, my echocardiogram shows very little thickness and my leaky valve barely leaks. The surgery is working. Things happen for a reason. My story is a story to treasure because heart disease DOES happen to women, I am living proof. Six months after surgery, I now look forward to the summer months and showing off the scar that saved my life, and celebrating life this year at the young and healthy age of 47.