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‘I thought I was fit and healthy… until I had a heart attack’

“When imagine a attack, you heart you tend to picture yourself grabbing your chest and being in intense pain, like in the movies. But, for me, it was a long, drawn-out experience. It was just over 48 hours from my first symptom until I collapsed. During that entire time I never believed I was having a heart attack. Even though I was a smoker and heart disease ran in attack. Even though I was a smoker and heart disease ran in my family, I didn’t think it could be my heart because I was fit and a healthy weight.

It was a Saturday afternoon in October a few years ago, and I was entertaining family at home. I had recently celebrated my birthday and felt good about life. My job as a hairdresser kept me busy but I loved it. I felt healthy and active, and hadn’t gotten so much as the flu in years.

I felt a twinge of pain in my abdomen. I thought I’d overdone it with the cheese and just laughed it off. The pain went away and I thought nothing more of it.

Later that night, it seemed like the indigestion had returned. I had a bad night’s sleep, but felt better in the morning. I did some gardening and cleaning, then the pain returned again – this time, it left me panting.

My husband, Mark, suggested I go to the doctor, to which I scoffed: ‘For what: wind?’

On Monday morning things hadn’t improved, so I tried to see my doctor. He was booked up for the day, but the receptionist suggested I go straight to hospital to get checked when I explained my symptoms. Again, stupidly, I refused to listen.

Over the day, the pain doubled, then tripled in intensity. By that evening, Mark was insisting that I go to the hospital, but still I refused, until suddenly, I felt a tingling sensation in my left arm and then I collapsed. On top of the excruciating pain, I was now short of breath, sweaty and nauseous.

I yelled across the room for Mark to call an ambulance and I knew then something was terribly wrong with me. Within five minutes, the paramedics arrived and started working on me, telling me I was having a heart attack. Moments later, I found myself at Box Hill Hospital. I was rushed to the operating theatre to have a stent inserted – my artery was fully blocked.

I woke up in the coronary-care unit where my husband was waiting. We were both relieved. Between hugs, I told him not to bother ringing the kids in the middle of the night, but of course he did, and Tamara and Caine rushed to my bedside.

I spent three days in hospital and learned some hard truths. I found out that I had extremely high blood pressure, which was a key factor in my attack. Because I hadn’t seen a doctor in years, I had no idea. My family history was also a factor, as was my smoking habit. I may have been younger than most of the other heart- attack patients at the hospital, but I was just as much at risk.

A new chapter

If I could go back in time, I would have gone straight to hospital, no questions asked. All of this could have been avoided. But I’m so grateful to the paramedics and the medical staff who saved my life. The heart attack definitely changed me – I vowed that I would never put my health at risk again. So I quit smoking – I haven’t smoked since I was admitted, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Mark, who was a smoker at the time, quit too, though it took him a few more years to give up entirely.

I still eat healthily like I did before, but I don’t cook with a lot of oil any more. I eat more fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread and I drink skim milk. I’ve also limited my daily coffee intake to just two cups rather than seven.

The attack has had long-lasting effects on my body – I’ll be on blood-thinning medication for the rest of my life and I don’t have the strength anymore to do heavy lifting around the house. But I can do any form of exercise as long as I don’t overexert myself. I actually keep quite active these days just helping with the care of my three young grandchildren.

I have regular check-ups with my cardiologist and take medication to stop my blood

pressure from rising, but I can’t rule out another heart scare – I’m told my risk is triple that of the average person. So I just try to spread the word to prevent anyone else going through what I have. My advice is to get regular check-ups, especially when it comes to your blood pressure and cholesterol. I’ve made all my friends do it, but would love my story to help more people.

I’m now 59 and I’m thankful for each day I spend with my family. My husband and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary this year and we are as close now, if not closer, than we were on our wedding day. I look forward to every tomorrow but never plan ahead – you never know what’s around the corner.”

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