Anne’s Story: Get Heart Disease Symptoms Checked

In the late ‘90s, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, but my medication had it under control. Then on January 18, 2007, I had a funny feeling in my chest. It was kind of like pressure. Not really pain, but for me it wasn’t normal.

So I went to Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital and had some tests done. It turned out that my heart vessels were really OK, but one of them was minimally blocked. I’d had a heart attack because of the atrial fibrillation.

The two top chambers of my heart would just kind of flutter and didn’t contract, so they were not pushing the blood through. When that happens, you can develop a little clot. There was probably a small clot that dissolved or it was one of the small heart vessels that went into spasm. So I really didn’t have any heart damage. I was very fortunate.

Dr. Steven Vignale is my cardiologist, and when he came to give me the results of my cardiac catheterization I probably asked him about 20 questions. I am a retired nurse, so I had my list, and he patiently stood by my bedside answering my questions. When I was finally finished asking everything I could think of, he said, “do you have any more questions?” I remember thinking, “this is the doctor for me.” He listens to you. For me personally, that is very important. I have been with him ever since.

Then he put me on a medication to control my atrial fibrillation and also oral blood thinners. I’ve been on those ever since and was told to go to cardiac rehabilitation at Texas Health Arlington.

I went for a total of 36 visits, three days a week for three months. It was the best experience of my life. The nurses in cardiac rehab were incredible, encouraging, knowledgeable, kind, interested and they listened to you. I still exercise three times a week at the fitness center next door to the hospital.

While in cardiac rehab, you become part of a little support group. You see people progress as they go through there. Some people have really serious problems, like recovering from valve replacements or bypass surgery. And you can see they are feeling better when they exercise. You’re on monitors the whole time, so if there is any little thing that is wrong, they will take you off the machine.

The nurses will advance your exercises until you can tolerate full exercise, and your heart is in good rhythm. Then they encourage you to go to the fitness center next door. The same nurses working in cardiac rehab also rotate through the fitness center, so they know you and your situation.

Now I volunteer in cardiac rehab and have been since finishing my program. You’ll see me there on Thursdays. It helped me so much. I see the progress the patients make. They are so different from when they start and when they finish with cardiac rehab.

I haven’t had any more problems. I feel very fortunate. It was a wake-up call for me that I really need to take care of myself better. If that incident hadn’t happened, I could have had a severe heart attack with significant heart damage. So it is like being given another chance to take better care of my health.

I’m a big advocate of heart care now. My advice to women that may not give heart disease much thought is to watch your diet, exercise, and keep your weight down. If you have any symptoms that are not normal for you, whether it’s chest pain, chest pressure, nausea, or a pain in your jaw, go get it checked. Women have different symptoms than men. And sometimes we will put others first, and ignore our symptoms. Women need to be aware that when they have symptoms, they need to go to the doctor and get it checked out.

To find out if you are at risk for heart disease, visit YourHeartAge.com.

Physicians on the medical staff practice independently and are not employees or agents of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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