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

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