On Wednesday 17 April, 2019 our lives changed in an instant and everyday since has been a challenge and a blessing. It’s a long story so bare with me until the end – there is a message to the story.
As mentioned in my welcome and introduction post, I was bitten by the CrossFit / Functional Fitness bug. I have loved lifting weights and pushing my body to the max for quiet a few years but had after shoulder surgery returned to an inconsistent (occasional) level of exercise. Upon arriving in the US with no work commitments, I stepped out of my comfort zone by not only walking into a new gym but a ‘box’ knowing nobody.
Walking into any gym is nerve racking, walking into a ‘box’ is terrifying. I was expecting the ladies in attendance to be machines and some of them were but most were everyday mums like me trying to push their bodies and become stronger. I expected the coaches to be loud and in your face, thankfully they could at times be loud, but they were amazing!
After attending for a few days a week, I was hooked and soon started attending 5 mornings a week. Leaving everything I had on that sweaty, smelly ‘box’ floor. I began swimming with some of the ladies and found my love of swimming return too. It felt good to be pushed and to be pushing my body.
On about the 13 April, 2019 I was feeling a little under the weather and had visited the dr for some routine blood test. I was tired but not sleeping and after four days of doing nothing besides laying on the couch I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t up to a crossfit / function Fitness session but decided to head to the pool.
When swimming we would complete an individual medley every four minutes in the indoor pool on base (it’s only about 22 metres). I was by myself that morning of 17 April and as I was completing the last lap on set 8, I noticed some discomfort and tightening in my chest and back. Thinking I had overdone it a little, I slowed to a slow paddle to the end of the pool. As I collected my bag the pain began in my left arm and at that stage I knew something was a little wrong.
I was trying not to panic and sent husband a quick text asking him to meet me out the front of his work as I wasn’t feeling great. By the time I was nearing his building the pain was in my jaw and I knew something was more than a little wrong. Parking in a no parking zone the security guard quickly came to inform me of my wrong doing – that’s when the tears started. I tried to explain that I was waiting for my husband and that I was unwell. He asked if I wanted the paramedics to be called – I just wanted my husband. With my tears streaming down my face and the pale colour I had turned he again asked if he should call the paramedics, at the statement the second time I sob that I just wanted my mum – at this he quickly called the paramedics. I am certain he had never had a 42 year old women crying for her mum!
Husband quickly came, fire brigade came, MP’s came swiftly followed by the paramedics. Decisions on which hospital to head to were made and the process started. After a 30 minute drive to the closest hospital with a cardiac ward I knew things were turning serious – the paramedic was radioing the ER every couple of minutes providing a update on numbers and timings that I didn’t understand. Upon arrival at Providence Medical Centre I was wheeled into the ER, it was like a scene from Grey’s Anatomy – nurses, cardiologist everywhere.
Dr Mcsweyn was the on call cardiologist and I remember him introducing himself when I turned to BM and told him that I loved him and to tell the kids I loved them – from there until a few minutes later I don’t know what happened except for what I am told. I said those oh so special words turned grey and had a heart attack right there in ER and in front of my husband.
I was fortunate to have the heart attack in the ER and received cardioversion right there. I came to with the Dr asking for more towels as I was vomiting over everyone and to the Anesthetist explaining they were going to put me to sleep to insert a tube down my throat. After that I was wheeled to surgery where during heart catheter it was discovered that my coronary artery had tore resulting in a lack of blood flow and causing the heart attack. A stent was inserted in my left LAD artery and I was transferred to ICU.
I came too in ICU on Thursday with tubes down my throat, mittens on my hands (so I couldn’t pull them out), a sore head where my hair tie still was and a feeling of sickness bubbling in my stomach. Not being able to talk I was left with eye signals, wriggling my feet trying to get my husband to understand I was about to be sick – thankfully he understood and as the nurses came, I vomited. This is a sure way to get the tubes removed quickly!
Upon my wakening and after the passing of nausea (a long time) I was able to sit and FaceTime with the kids – this was difficult. They had been in school when the drama had started but knew every detail of what had happened. We had amazing neighbours who took the kids in on the 17 & 18th of April which allowed husband to be at the hospital.
The next cardiologist I saw was Dr Katrapati, he is amazing and my cardiologist still. It was explained that I had suffered a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) which had lead to the heart attack. SCAD just like it states is spontaneous. SCAD more commonly affects women aged 30-50 who are fit, healthy, who generally have no history of heart disease in their families and no high blood pressure. Nobody really knows why but exertion and stress can be factors. With SCAD, the artery tears and this causes blood to either slow or stop being able to pass through the artery. Having never heard of SCAD was both frightening and unbelievable.
Our kids came to visit on the Friday and it was incredibly emotional but it was the beginning of the healing process we needed. Our families and close friends in Australia had been informed and within three days my mum arrived from Australia. This was what we all needed. The Dr’s had informed us that it was very touch and go and that if I hadn’t been in the ER when the heart attack happened ‘I would have returned to Australia in a box’ – these words are tough to hear. I had been moved to the cardiac ward the day before and was discharged the day mum arrived – perfect timing.
I was discharged with a Life Vest (external defibrillator, a bundle of medication and orders to take it easy. In the first few weeks there was a lot of sleeping and plenty of cups of tea. The house returned to some normality with school and work. Mum was here to take control during the day and to keep me company (also doing the housework) and we will be forever thankful.
We made plans to visit friends in Missouri for the 4th of July weekend and a few days prior I had had a MUGA Heart Scan to check the heart flow and function of my heart – the results weight heavily on my mind and it would take several days to receive them. By 1700 on the 3rd of July I hadn’t heard from the Cardiologist and I figured he was busy and I would hear from him on the Monday – argh!! He didn’t disappoint and called at 1800 that day with the news that my heart had normalised and was healing great. After my heart attack my Ejection Fraction was 32%, pumping really low (normal EF is 55-65%) it was now at 62%. He was as surprised as I was and had checked the results three times before calling. I was advised that I could throw the defibrillator out the window and could enjoy the weekend. There were plenty of tears from all of us and the defibrillator was quickly taken off.
The road since then has been a lot easier. Our minds were put at ease and although there have been some emotional days….’I’m 42 and had a heart attack’ quotes we are returning to everyday life. I still get tired and have had two hospital visits since then, the most recent this past week. Every twinge or pain sends the mind into overdrive but the support from my husband and kids as well as the care at Providence has been outstanding. This past week during my hospital stay I was given more test including a stress test to ensure that there was not underlying issues and that my heart was function well – I was given the all clear and am focusing on the positives.
The way I exercise in the future is different to what it was – no lifting over 10lbs (hopefully increases to 30lbs), no crossfit or competing and ensuring I keep the routine in balance. There will be plenty of walking, slow swimming (no butterfly), gently biking and golf. As for an underlying cause – I have never had high blood pressure or high cholesterol, was strong and fit, no strong family history of heart disease (three of my grandparents are still alive and healthy at 89 & 86) and there is not enough understanding to other causes. I have struggled at times to understand, I was doing everything right for my body/health and for some reason it has felt like it has let me down – this is not the case and this is the message I have taken from the experience……
Life is ever changing, life is for learning and giving and one that can never be taken for granted. I have learnt more about myself in the last 14 weeks than ever before. I believe I am more patient, more compassionate, a better mumma and wife and I have in place goals and a desire to help educate and to be an advocate for women and their hearts.
This growing and healing was not one that I have done on my own – it has impacted the lives of my family and for them that’s when I get emotional. Our kids and my husband should never have had to go through what they have at this stage of our lives, the worry that I wasn’t going to make it, the worry that it will happen again to the feeling that they don’t like leaving me alone….that is what I struggle with. I know with each passing day, this part will get easier and I take on their strength. The way that they have dealt with the emotion and information overload is incredible, they are strong, independent and I am so thankful I get call them mine. My love for them, my wishes for them is what drives me to continue to get stronger!
For our family and friends, this has been tough too. My mum who flew across the world within three days is the strongest women I know. For the FaceTime chats to the endless message of love and support, for this I am thankful.
Today, I am feeling great!!