“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 had almost zero experience with heart disease.”

Heart Healthcare Story

When my husband came home one day from playing tennis complaining of shortness of breath, I urged him to have his doctor check him out.

Even when his doctor said he didn’t think anything was wrong, I kept at my husband to dig deeper. I’m glad he did.

But when the cardiologist said he needed bypass surgery, the tears started flowing. How could my husband, always active and healthy, need such a serious operation?

Our first job was to go home and tell our three daughters. Although I had not even had time to digest the totally unexpected news myself, I had to not only reassure the girls everything was going to be okay, but I also had to be strong for my husband.

This is when my role as a caregiver began. As a mother, I was used to dealing with my children’s runny noses and upset stomachs, but I had no idea what lay ahead of me as primary caregiver to my new patient.

I had almost zero experience with heart disease. Although my father-in-law had a massive heart attack and died at 61, I didn’t learn a lot about heart disease at that time because I was fairly young.

But I soon became like a sponge absorbing everything the doctors and nurses told me about all the things to expect.

As a caregiver, I felt one of my biggest responsibilities was giving my husband reassurance all the things he was going through were normal.

However, I think the hardest time for me was bringing him home from the hospital. Now it was all in my hands because there were no doctors or nurses helping him or making decisions.

The first few days home were the toughest as he had very limited mobility – especially getting in and out of bed and going up and down the stairs. I also made sure he started a schedule of taking his medication as he was not prone to taking more than a painkiller before his surgery.

It was imperative he made this process a part of his routine going forward, like brushing his teeth. It didn’t take me more than a few days to have to begin telling my husband to slow down a bit.

He totally took on his recovery walking curriculum and completed his 30 walks in 32 days. Although I was proud of him, I was also a bit scared.

I knew my health was important, and the stress we were under was going to have some kind of impact on me.

I would go for long walks, which always helped work off some of the stress. I’ve always enjoyed a long, hot, bubble bath, but now it was like an essential to help me relax.

I also found time to take care of our new puppy, Jackson. I have to admit doting on him was a bit of a release for me. As we all know, if you want loyalty in your life, get a puppy. For me, taking Jackson on walks was also great, as I kibitzed with him and let my cares float away.

I was also well taken care of. Our family and friends made sure our freezer was full of dinners. My girlfriends’ support, visits, and long chats on the phone were a lifesaver for me.

But most of all, I knew everyone’s love, prayers, and best wishes were with us through it all.

– Lori, 46

“It saved my life!”

Heart Healthcare Story

I was running errands after dropping my daughter off at school.

It was on a morning just like any other, when I began to experience a headache that was unlike any I’d ever felt before. It came on fast and strong and soon my vision was so blurry, I couldn’t read the speedometer.

I knew I was having a stroke because, just a few days before, I had read about the signs of stroke from a news article.

I quickly pulled into the nearest parking lot and stepped out of my minivan to get help, when my body felt very weak, and I collapsed. A storekeeper saw me go down and immediately called an ambulance.

It’s strange to me now, because a week earlier, I wouldn’t have known what these signs meant.

It was because I knew, and pulled over so quickly to get help, that I was able to get to the hospital in time to receive an intravenous tissue plasminogen activator to help reverse the stroke’s effects on my body. It saved my life!

Lying in my hospital bed, the stroke had left me with no feeling on the left side of my body. Only through months of physiotherapy was I able to climb back to feeling well again.

These rehabilitative programs helped me get on my feet again, at first with a walker, then with two canes. Now I’m able to walk without assistance.

The only residual effect of the stroke is a lingering paralysis in three fingers on my left hand and that I can live with!

– Maryann, 54