Saturday, February 18, 2012

February is American Heart Month

I've been very involved in several projects this month that have taken quite a bit of my time and energy, as well as being the focus of several of my recent posts here. February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to promote awareness for the good work of the American Heart Association

Jamie, over at hands on: we grow started a fabulous e-book called the heart project. She decided to start this project because her niece, Ellie, suffers from a congenital heart defect. (Read more about that here.) For the remainder of the month, the heart project e-book is offered as a thank you gift for your donation of $5 to support the American Heart Association. Also, there are just hours left to enter to win a copy right here on little illuminations by commenting on my post "Have A Heart". 

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I'd thought I'd take just a moment to disclose why I'm so passionate about American Heart Month. A couple of years ago, as we were walking through the beautiful beach house my family had just rented for a week long vacation, I started feeling ill. (We hadn't even unpacked the car yet!) I had a massive hot flash and dizziness, and a funny taste in my mouth. I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water over my face and laid down over the air conditioning vent as my knees grew weak. I felt disconnected, sort of out of it. Eventually, after several moments, but what felt like an eternity, it passed. I felt better, but weak and with a migraine for the rest of the afternoon. We were on vacation, so I'd just take it easy.  I deserved this vacation. 

Right before I'd left to go on vacation, I'd gone to have a tooth filled and discovered that I had high blood pressure suddenly and had to take medicine to control it. I'd just graduated after 3 years of working full time and going back to school full time carrying a full load (and often plus a few extra courses) and raising 2 daughters. The job situation in our area had just gotten really tough right before I graduated. I had not gotten my "dream job" but had taken a position with a school that promised a position I really wanted, if I agreed to work the summer. I agreed, with the condition that I could take this vacation, planned and counted on for the last several months. I'd been very stressed for months, but the stress was all over now. 

During that week, I had two more "episodes". I chalked it up to hormones and the early onset menopause that I'd been told to expect after a hysterectomy several years before. When I returned home, I told my husband and he seemed concerned. One day at work, I'd gone out to get lunch with a friend and brought it back to work. Before I could sit down to eat, I felt another "episode" coming on. I went to stand by the staff bathroom to wait to get in. One of the teachers in the room directly across the hall said she looked out and saw me go white and wobbly and rushed out of the room with a chair and got me in it. The bathroom freed up and I went in and sat over the air for a minute or two and the flash passed again. I splashed water over my face and went to eat my lunch. Maybe the heat (it was July in Georgia) and hunger were partially to blame.  That night, I fought my husband's requests that I go to the emergency room to get checked out. I insisted that it must be the "hot flashes". I was only 42, for goodness sake! He made me promise to get to a doctor immediately if it happened again. 

A week or two later, my sister and I decided to take our 4 children up near Greenville, SC to surprise our dad. He had a special anniversary coming up and it would mean the world to him to have us all there. We drove up, checked into the motel. Our stepmom pulled up to the motel and told him some story to get him there and there we were! Surprise! They stepped into the motel room, but before we could even visit, I started to feel weak. I stepped into the bathroom and felt it coming on again. This time, it felt stronger and scarier. I knew I needed to call for help, but right outside the bathroom door were my 2 daughters and my niece and nephew that I didn't want to scare. I called out to my sister and finally got her to the door and asked her to call 911. She called but we were pretty far out in the country and the 911 operator said that if at all possible, we needed to try to get in via car, because it would take much too long for an ambulance to get out to us and back to a hospital.

We got to the hospital, and I finally got all checked in. I was describing the symptoms to the nurse as they began to take my pressure, and hook me up to monitors. She held my hand but seemed to swallow hard and make a face when I said I thought it was probably hot flashes from early menopause. I was hooked up to monitors and the doctor came in as I was trying to reach my husband back home at work. I apologized to the doctor and handed my dad the phone try my husband, Duncan. The doctor told me he would really like to speak to Duncan himself. I heard the doctor tell my husband that they were going to admit me, and that he needed to get to the hospital 4 hours away immediately. The doctor stepped away and they talked for a minute and he turned to me. He took my hand and very gently told me that I had not been experiencing menopause, I'd been having small heart attacks. As we spoke, I had another one right there. In very short order, I was whisked away to the cardiac ICU, where I spent the next 10 days. 

Since then, I've changed a lot of things in my life. Some things I've done a better job at managing than others.   One of the major messages to me was that often, heart attack symptoms in women are often not the Fred-Sanford-clutching-his-chest-yelling-"Elizabeth-I'm-coming" variety of symptoms. Often, women experience the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath
  • weakness
  • unusual fatigue
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • indigestion or pressure feeling in upper chest
  • lower chest discomfort
  • back pain
I hope that more women become aware that what may seem as fairly benign symptoms can actually be quite serious. I was very lucky. I was young, in good health and yet, still right in the crosshairs of heart disease.

I'm thankful to have gotten such good care and a second chance. 
I'd like to honor all those who have heart issues. Here are a few friends that wanted to honor family and friends:
  • me!
  • my stepdad, Fred
  • Jamie's niece, Ellie
  • Beth's mom and dad, Robin and Michael Favro
  • Shali's grandson, Jacob
  • Debbie's mom, Elsie

I'm now organizing our Jump Rope For Heart event at our preschool. We're planning a variety of heart healthy exercise stations (all involving jump ropes) for our Jump Rope For Heart event Feb. 29th. If you'd like to help sponsor me, click here to go to my Jump Rope For Heart page. We've got 6 classes competing in the event and fundraising, so our class can use all the help we can get! 

We've been practicing, and having a lot of fun, too! Yesterday, we hooked up the boom box outside and did the limbo! 

We managed to get in a quick found of tug o' war, too!

Thanks for taking the time to stop by. I know this isn't my "usual" type of post, but it's something I feel passionate about. If you'd like to honor someone you know with heart disease or a defect, honor them here by leaving their name in the comments. 


  1. Ayn! What a touching post. Thank you for sharing your experience. Good luck with your Jump Rope for Heart!!

    1. Thanks so much, Jessi! I wish more of us knew what to look for! I never thought it could happen to me since I was young and in good shape! Thanks for your support with our Jump Rope For Heart campaign, too! We'll have a lot of fun and get a little exercise, no matter how we do! :)


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