Healthful habits could save your life
BY KAREN L. RANCOURT
When I took that phone call from Anita, I was so surprised that I couldn’t speak.
Anita is our neighbor and a dear friend in the condominium in Florida where my husband and I live in the winter. In the summer, where we were when this phone call came in, we live at the Jersey Shore with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons. (Lucky us, but that’s another story.)
When I saw it was Anita calling, I was all bubbly.
Me: “Hey, girlfriend! It’s great to hear from you!”
Anita: “I didn’t want you to hear this from anyone else. I had a heart attack.”
Anita? Heart attack? No. Just not possible. Anita is one of the most health-conscious people I know: she is a competitive swimmer, a bicyclist, a faithful adherent to healthful eating.
Plus, she had none of the lifestyle factors that increase one’s risk of a heart attack:
- Lack of physical activity.
- A diet high in sodium, sugar, and fat.
- Smoking or tobacco use (including smokeless or chewing tobacco and vaping).
- Drinking too much alcohol.
- Drug abuse.
My Questions for Anita
During that initial phone call and over the following weeks, I asked Anita many questions about her heart attack, including these three:
- Prior to going to the hospital, did you have any indications that something wasn’t right?
“Yes, but I chalked things being off as being age-related, now that I’m 71. I was feeling more tired than usual, my swimming was sluggish, and I had to stop more often and rest. I just thought I was not working hard enough, that I was getting lazy, and that I needed to work harder.
“Also, a few days before my heart attack, I had been a volunteer handing out food and water to the rescuers at the site where a condo collapsed in Surfside, Miami. It was hot and emotionally draining, so I assumed this added to my feeling crappy.”
As research points out, and was the case with Anita, “… women are having the symptoms weeks before the heart attack starts, and [healthcare workers] need to find and urge them to get medical care to prevent them from going to the emergency department when it is too late.”
Of related importance, although 70% of women have the same symptoms as men, that is, chest pressure or chest tightness, 30% of women have atypical symptoms: extreme fatigue; shortness of breath; an inability to do what one was able to do before. Again, these findings apply to Anita.
Note: For a comprehensive understanding of heart attacks, I highly recommend “Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction).”
- What was going on that you decided to get yourself to the emergency department?
“That entire day I had no appetite, and I attributed this to being excited that my son was arriving soon from Tokyo, where he lives. Then around 2 a.m., I started vomiting; by 2:30 a.m., I knew I was in serious trouble.
“Because an emergency department was only a few minutes away, I decided to drive myself there. I know, I know, I have been told that calling 911 was the recommended option …. Anyway, when I got to the ED, I got the shocking news that I was having a heart attack. They immediately brought me to the cardiac catheterization lab and placed a stent in a blocked artery. In the next few days, they unblocked two more arteries with stents.”
To read the details of Anita’s heart attack and recovery: “Diving Back Into Health,” published by Broward Healthy Now.
- As a result of your heart attack, what changes are you making, or did you make in your life?
“I don’t push myself through situations that are too much for me anymore — for example, I no longer go to late dinners, be in big crowds, go on trips that I don’t want to go on, drive alone to faraway places, do too many people-pleasing things. Turns out that I am happy with less of everything.”
As Anita’s experience illustrates, committing to and practicing healthful habits do not guarantee an absence of medical challenges, but they do offer a chance of minimizing deleterious outcomes. And, as research indicates, it is never too late to develop more healthful behaviors and activities.
A final comment from Anita
“Right after my heart attack and even now and then, I question all my healthy habits. What good did they do? I still had a serious heart attack! However, as four different cardiologists have reminded me, I had several life-threatening artery blockages. They say it was my swimming and exercise that saved me.
“So, regaining as much of that fitness as possible has been very motivating for me. It is great to be back with my swim team. I may never be as fast as I once was, but I’m back!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen L. Rancourt, Ph.D., advice columnist, is also an author. Her most recent book is, It’s All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work.