Thursday, January 26, 2017

Heart Attack/Tear in my Heart

I have avoided writing about my heart attack because I didn't want to RE-LIVE the nightmare.  Because it was a nightmare.  It was shocking.  It was traumatic.  But since so many people have asked me about it (and I want to educate others on the signs) I have decided to finally do it.  I'm hoping it will be therapeutic for me also...

First you need to understand some background information- From July to Oct 2016 things in my life were abnormally and extremely stressful to say the least.  Without giving too many details about that I will just say that there were shocking events (cancer, suicide attempts, opposition) involving family members that broke my heart and rocked my world.  I cried everyday for months and months.  I am not even exaggerating.  I literally cried every. single. day.  I couldn't cope as well with my roles as mother and teacher and homemaker, everything was in survival mode.  Not a fun way to live.  I wouldn't suggest that to anyone.  But it's really really REALLY hard to turn off emotions.

After a VERY hard weekend and emotional breakdown we come to Weds, Oct. 5th 2016.  I was at school, going about a relatively normal day, and noticed some back pain where I couldn't get comfortable sitting, standing, or walking.  So I took some ibuprofen to see if it would help.  The day before I had walked with a friend and thought it was hurting from that.  Back pain for me is not unusual due to my weight and "blessings" in front haha.  But this pain was different in that it radiated in the upper middle part.  My parents called earlier and my dad asked me how I was dealing with the stress.  I laughed and said, "Dad, I cry and I eat my feelings." He said, "Well you have GOT to find a different way to deal with stress!"  (Yeah, no kidding, I realize it's not healthy, but I had NO idea what was coming)  I kept working as late as I could before I went to pick up Chelsea from daycare.  Because I'm a teacher and teachers work a crazy amount of time and NEVER feel caught up, like ever!  I got my cute little nugget from daycare and started driving home when it HIT me!  Like a huge wrecking ball through my chest.  The pain was all through my chest, down both arms, and up into my jaw.  My first thought was it's a panic attack because I had been an emotional wreck the past several months.  Totally makes sense.  Panic Attack.  Crazy painful panic attack! I haven't had a panic attack in 15 years!  I called Tom right away because he can usually talk me through it and calm me down.  I could barely talk and I was crying because of the pain and I was scared.  He agreed and thought it must be a panic attack.  I kept repeating "I just have to get home, I just have to get home"  I kept driving and talking to him (I only work a few miles from home) but looking back I really should NOT have been driving... 

Lesson 1- do not drive if you think you are having a heart attack.

4:30 - When I got home all my kids were there, I threw my phone to Sydney and told her to talk to Tom.  I went upstairs and tried to lay down for a second but the pain was too much.  I asked Zack to get me some Excedrin and took 2 of those.  I was pacing and crying and trying to breathe.  I then called my mom on Sydney's phone and told her what was happening, she called Emma (my sister who's a Dr) on the other line while she and my dad were telling me to go to the ER.
Me- "It's probably a panic attack but the pain won't stop, it hurts so bad! Why isn't the pain stopping?"
Dad- "Let the paramedics decide if it's a panic attack!  Call 911!" he was shouting because he was worried.  :)
Me- "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do"

My poor kids were just following me around, watching wide eyed and worried.  Tom was already on his way home and we decided he would take me to the hospital.
**** This is where you SHOULD call an ambulance****  

Lesson 2- If you think you are having a heart attack CALL 911, do not waste valuable time driving to the hospital.  You need medical attention right away!  Your heart is literally dying.  Every second counts! 

But in the moment none of us were thinking straight.  Sydney helped me get to the van and I waited for Tom, crying, and trying to breathe.  I couldn't catch my breath.  I felt nauseous.  It literally felt like I was having a baby out of my chest!  No, It was worse!  I can handle labor better than this!
Zack stood on the porch watching me and waiting for Tom.  It broke my heart seeing how stressed he was.  The littles wanted to come with me.  Tom got home super fast and we got to the ER around 5:00.  They took me back right away and started tests.  I just wanted the pain to stop.  Everyone kept asking if I had been under a lot of stress, I would just chuckle then cry and say yes.  They gave me morphine which did NOT do a thing for the pain!  Stupid worthless morphine.  I hate morphine.  They did a chest x-ray, blood work, and EKG.  Within 20 min they told me my heart was showing damage and they needed to transport me to Utah Valley because they don't take care of cardiac issues in this hospital.  Now I really started to feel panic and shock.  Seriously?  A heart attack?  No way.  They gave me the miracle medicine- Nitroglycerin- wow, that stuff is amazing!  It took the pain to a tolerable level.  And then Heparin through an IV.  Finally the pain subsided!  I told the staff I actually wanted this to be a panic attack and not a heart problem.  Can we go back to just a panic attack?  Please?  Please?  Do I need to talk to my kids?  My family?  Am I dying?  :( 

5:30- They put me in the ambulance and turned the sirens on!  Really?  Sirens = near death.  There is nothing that compares to that panic.  Sheesh, my heart sank and I felt like I was going into shock.  My blood pressure shot through the roof and it was already high!  The EMT kept assuring me they have to turn the sirens on and I was ok.  I didn't believe him.  Tom had to drive separate.  He said it was hard to watch. He told me it made him cry.  Tom never cries.  In 20 years I have NEVER seen him cry.  Tear up yes, cry no.  When we got to the hospital in Provo they took me to the Cardiac ICU, wait what?  How serious is this??? I do not like the sound of "ICU" that's where people die.... more panic.  Am I going to die?  What's going on with my heart?  More tears.  At least the beds in ICU are totally amazing!  It's like an adjustable air mattress but 100 times better!  Lots of nurses and Dr's came to talk to me about what would happen next and asked me what I was doing here since I am so young.  Seriously, I'm not supposed to be here, this is all a mistake, let me go home.  And yes thanks, I am STILL YOUNG!  They explained the procedure they would do- to go in through an artery (in my wrist or leg) to look at my heart and see what had happened.  It could be a number of things, a blockage, or "broken heart syndrome", or heart disease.  They didn't mention a tear.  Since I was relatively stable they wouldn't do the cardiac catheterization until the next day.  For the next 12+ hrs I had regular tests done every 2 hours and an echocardiogram.  I couldn't eat until after the surgery.  I wasn't hungry anyway.  My parents came to stay with me when Tom went home to be with the kids.  It was nice to not be alone.  When I was alone I had time to process everything.  I didn't like that.  They did the cardiac catheter at 2:00pm on Thursday.  I was very nervous since we still didn't know what had happened.  Was it a blockage?  Do I have heart disease?  They keep you awake during the surgery though I was REALLY out of it.  They tried going through the wrist first but said my heart was positioned different so they had to go through my leg.  Lovely.   That is not a fun recovery.

THE DIAGNOSIS-  I had a tear in my LAD (left anterior descending) artery that caused a blockage.  The LAD is called the "widow maker".  They usually find out it was a tear postmortem.  Wow.  I am not meant to leave Earth yet.  Thank Goodness!  My condition is referred to as "SCAD" Sudden Coronary Arterial Dissection "SCAD is an extremely uncommon cause of acute coronary syndrome with an incidence of 0.1% among patients undergoing cardiac catheterization. More than 70% of the reported cases are diagnosed postmortem. Typically, SCAD involves the left coronary system (75% of all SCAD) and is usually reported in women."  My condition happens to women in their 30's-40's and can be because of stress, hormones, and genetics.

Lesson 3 The signs of a heart attack- I had most of these but not all
Back pain
Severe chest pain or just pressure in chest
Shortness of breath- like you just ran up a flight of stairs
Pain down arms
Pain in jaw and face
Nauseousness, lightheadedness
Stomach pain

So it's a miracle how everything happened and I'm still here. Miracle because of priesthood blessings and God's will.  Miracle because of modern medicine. 

For more information see this link

It's a good outcome considering the alternatives-
1. I don't have any blockages and  
2. I don't have heart disease...

1) I get to be on heart meds for the rest of my life.  And blood thinners for at least a year.   Let's just say that being on blood thinners BEFORE menopause is no walk in the park.  But I'm not complaining.  #happytobealive  Every time I ask my cardiologist something he says, "Oh yes, I forget you are younger than most of my patients and they don't have those problems..." awesome.
2) No further surgery or stents.  Time will heal my heart but I have to avoid stress and avoid strenuous exercise because it can happen again.

This can happen again????  Boo!!!!  ... so how do I prevent it?  Take heart meds forever AND decrease stress in my life.  Oh yeah, like that's easy.  Sure.  MAYBE, just maybe... if I could cut out the stress of money, health, working full time, and if family members could stop breaking my heart....and if I had a house-cleaner, a cook, a therapist, and a personal assistant to help me at school...maybe, just maybe my stress would go down... :)   :)

None of that is going to happen in this lifetime so how do you decrease stress in your life?  Any suggestions would be welcome!  I have tried really hard to get enough rest and not to take on too much.  Tom has done EVERYTHING at home- cooking, cleaning, laundry.  He makes me rest.  The kids have also helped a lot.  I try hard to not let others' bad decisions/actions/agency affect me as much.  Do you understand how hard that is?  That in itself is a miracle from God.  I asked for His help.  He gave it.  I wish I had an emotion chip in my brain that I could just turn off (like Data from star trek).  I am not a fan of opposition.  Yes I am learning and growing and keeping my faith, but I do not like opposition.  It stinks.  Although it would be worse if I didn't have God in my life.  I am thankful for that.  He helps me get through the opposition. 

All this time I was in the hospital my family, our sweet church community, and my work community took care of my kids, brought in meals, drove my kids around, and helped clean.  It was amazing how well we were taken care of!  Lots of people visited me in the hospital and after I was home on bed rest for 3 weeks.  My whole family is SO grateful for the service that was given!  What blessings!

It has taken a LONG time to get back to "normal".  My new normal is an adjustment.  When I first got home I could only stand for 30 seconds at a time. Now it's January and I can walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes at 2 mph.  Don't laugh, I know that's only a stroll but for me and my weak heart it's a workout!  As long as I keep moving forward I am happy with the progress.  I wear a heart monitor to make sure my heart is not overworking.  I have been going to cardiac rehab a few times per week and that has helped me SO much!  I feel weird being there because everyone is 70+ yrs old, but they are all so sweet! I absolutely love my older friends!   It's in Provo right next to the hospital and it's only open from 8:45-11:00 so it's hard for me to get there with teaching.  But I go when I can.  It's like having a personal trainer but you're all hooked up to monitors and your trainer is a nurse.  If you ever have a heart issue DO the cardiac rehab!  It works in multiple areas.  When I first started I was so scared to exert myself in ANY way because my heart would race, I would get dizzy and light headed, and nauseous.  But the comfort of knowing my heart was ok and being monitored gave me confidence.  It's literally crazy how your confidence drops when you have a heart attack.  It's kind of an important muscle.  So to say I had some post traumatic stress is an understatement.  And Tom for sure has it too, he's convinced I only have a year or two to live.  I really hope he's wrong because I'm committed to be here until the second coming!  Plus I am not going anywhere until my kids are all grown up!  I refuse!  And I hope my plan aligns with God's plan...I know I am in His hands.

Things I am doing now are paying attention to my eating patterns, trying to get movement into my day, and getting rest (physical, emotional, spiritual).  I have also started going to weight watchers.  Their eating plan is the SAME for a healthy heart diet!  Yay!  I love weight watchers!  I love the meetings!  Hoping to make small, permanent changes to my mindset and unhealthy relationship to food.

So now you know most of the story.  The nitty gritty.  Life isn't always cupcakes and rainbows.  But I will never again complain about my birthdays and getting older.  What a blessing it is to be here and have more time!  Each day is a gift! 

Fun fact- when I found out it was a tear I had a song running through my head the ENTIRE time at the hospital and it will forever be my song- "Tear in my heart" by Twenty One Pilots.  Thanks to my kids I love that band.

My cardiologist said something that forever changed my thinking on exercise.  He said, "You don't exercise to lose weight.  You exercise to make your body strong and feel good."  I kind of knew that already but hearing it in the cardiac ICU made such an impression on me!  Whenever I started an exercise program I always expect to lose weight, like immediately!  And when I don't, I give up because why put in the effort if I'm not going to lose weight?  Now my motivations are SO different.  I do not think of weight AT ALL.  Exercise is just to make me feel good and get my body (heart) strong.  That Dr's statement changed my life.  So little by little I am trying, I won't give up.

Now some fun pics- I don't have pictures of my littles because they were a bit traumatized seeing me in the hospital and wouldn't come too close.  Chelsea was SO mad at me for being gone.  Poor baby girl. 

gifts from family and friends!  :)

Savannah surprised me and came from Idaho!!  :)  :)  :)

The wrist ouchie

They were so mean to me with all the pokes...

My poor puffy feet but at least I had a pedicure done the week before.

I feel like a pharmacy

It's hard being away from family so I loved when they came and snuggled with me!

Snap chat filters are fun

Sydney is making fun of me

Chelsea just wanted to cuddle all the time when I got home! 

One of my favorite quotes!

If you made it to here I am impressed.

Take care of yourself, take care of your heart.

#heartattack #SCAD #cardiacrehab #cardiacICU #UVRMC  #takecareofyourheart #heartattacksigns  #happytobealive #preisthoodblessings #lds #faithheals #GodisGood #specialeducationteacher #workingmom #spedteacher #weightwatchers


  1. Sally thanks so much for sharing. I'm sure that was hard to do but I really appreciate it. Thanks for the heads up.


  2. I love you Sally! I cried reading this! You're right, you are meant to be here still and I'm so grateful for you just as I'm sure your family is too! This was so well-written and touching. ♡

  3. I cried all through this too- we had no idea what you were going through. I pray that you are here for a long time too and that you will be totally healed and healthy again. I hope the children are all helping out at home and doing everything they can do to lessen the stress. Me I take B vitamins everyday and do lots of deep breathing!. Love you Sal

  4. Thanks for sharing! You are a strong and resilient person and you are capable of doing hard things! Keep it up. I'm motivated to exercise by the way it makes me feel. I think that's a great perspective. Love you! Becky

  5. I am so very glad that you are doing so good, Sally! I hope you could feel prayers with you from so many of us, your friends. You are a true warrior for families. You inspire me.

  6. Wow, you're had quite a shocking experience. Thank you for having the courage to share it and warn the rest of us. You are strong to be able to do this and I hope you continue to have a great recovery.

  7. Thank you for this! You are so brave and faithful. Much love!

  8. Scary stuff. I had a patient with SCAD a few months ago. Glad to hear your on the mend.

  9. I read every word of this post, this morning when I was on the elliptical. It feels so good to "catch up" with an old friend. Love you Sally.