“The shortness of breath stayed with me for most of the evening.”

Heart Healthcare Story

My main symptom was shortness of breath, not chest pain.

I returned home from teaching an evening class, carrying course outlines, handouts. When I came into my home, I could not catch my breath. There was no pain, my breathing just seemed to improve with shallow breaths.

I began to consider the possibilities of what was happening. My first thought was the items I was carrying were too heavy, or perhaps I was coming down with a respiratory infection.

The shortness of breath stayed with me for most of the evening.

A week later, I visited my doctor, and shared my experience. He made a referral to a cardiologist who provided a brief examination and was sure it wasn’t my heart. He provided a prescription for an antacid and instructed me to take it for 30 days.

A month later, when I returned to his office, he asked if the prescription helped. I told him it hadn’t helped at all with the breathing issue. He then arranged several tests, including a cardiac catheterisation, which detected three arteries with more than 70 percent blockage.

He indicated my condition was manageable with medication, and after five years, I may require surgery. So, I took the medication and off I went about my life thinking my heart condition was under control.

A month later I had a heart attack. Six cardiac catheterisations, and six stents later, I had open heart bypass surgery.

After surviving all of this, I’ve come to the conclusion someone has more in mind for me to do.

– Suzanne, 55

“I’m not just surviving, I’m living a much healthier and well managed life to the full.”

Heart Healthcare Story

I fell from a boat into cold water in the Hawkesbury River, which triggered a complete blockage of my right coronary artery.

I had no pain, but I felt off – so I sat down, then laid down. My wife, who was a nurse, recognised the symptoms of pins and needles in the left arm and a grey facial complexion. As I lay on the floor with legs in the air she rang 000.

I was dangerously distant from available transport to a hospital, let alone a catheterisation lab where heart attacks are treated). Yet within 15 minutes, I had met the first response paramedic. He gave me an aspirin and set up the ECG.

Fifteen minutes later, I was en route to Royal North Shore Hospital in an ambulance equipped with the early triage program.

Transport time was not wasted – paramedics transmitted my ECG to the hospital for triage and assessment.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, one of the top interventional cardiology teams in Australia was ready for me in the catheterisation lab, and I was immediately wheeled in, had the clot exploded and a stent inserted in my artery.

Thanks to the wonderful follow-up work of cardiologist Geoffrey Tofler and the whole cardiac rehab team, I’m not just surviving, I’m living a much healthier and well managed life to the full.

And thanks to my early triage miracle, I have just run my five-yearly stress test without a blip in sight.

Thanks team – you are miracle workers and you have given me a whole extra life!

– Chris, 52

“It was like someone was pushing down on my chest.”

Heart Healthcare Story

I thought I knew the signs of a heart attack from the movies I’d seen — chest pain and numbness in the left arm.

So when I felt nauseated and dizzy, I dismissed those feelings. I thought it was something I ate.

Early the next morning, I awoke feeling an urgency to use the bathroom – but found I couldn’t get out of bed. It was like someone was pushing down on my chest.

Unable to walk, I crawled to the bathroom. Afterwards I rested on my couch. I thought the pain in my chest was heartburn. Then, in a few minutes, my left arm started to feel heavy, and I needed to urinate again.

When my husband, Jose, woke up, he urged me to go to emergency. I protested, arguing that I’d see my doctor later that day for my annual physical. But Jose persisted and eventually convinced me.

By the time I arrived at emergency, I was hunched over and my arm felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. That’s when they told me I was having a heart attack.

But I doubted that diagnosis because I didn’t know that men’s and women’s heart attack symptoms often differ. I was having symptoms more common for a woman than a man.

Tests showed I’d actually had two heart attacks, including one the prior day when I was feeling dizzy and nauseated. That’s when I recalled I’d also had swelling in my ankles and blurred vision a couple weeks earlier. Those were signs that my heart was straining, my blood pressure had increased and I had poor circulation.

I had several blockages in coronary arteries that required a triple bypass to correct.

The whole thing left me perplexed because I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to that point in my health.

During three months in cardiac rehab, I learned about maintaining a healthy lifestyle; I also learned about the role family history can play in cardiovascular disease. I started asking questions and discovered I had a strong history of heart disease on both sides of my family.

My doctor told me it wasn’t a question of if I’d have a heart attack but when.

After my heart attack, I got my whole family – including my four grown children and their families – involved in making healthy changes. Family favorites, like tacos, got a makeover.

We use lettuce leaves instead of a crispy corn tortilla, so you still have that crunch without having something fried Other favorites that were fried are now baked.

I’m also doing cardio as well as walking and doing strength exercises. I’ve lost 8 kilos.

Having heart attacks changed my perspective on how I handled my health. Now I encourage women to make their health a priority.

Women tend to put everything else first. ”Sometimes it takes our bodies having to go through a major health event to get our attention.

You really have to listen to your body,. This taught me to be more aware and not dismissive of things that were happening.

Being aware may just save your life.

– Veronica, 52