One person dies every 34 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And since I survived my own recent life-threatening incident, I was reminded that we should be extremely mindful of our heart health.
After Thanksgiving 2021, I was waiting at a red light in suburban Philadelphia when I felt a tingling sensation up and down my left arm. It was so startling that I called a friend and asked, “Isn’t this a heart attack symptom?” We talked about it for a few minutes but then changed the topic of conversation.
A few weeks later, shortly before the holidays, I was having lunch with my sister when I had intense heartburn. It was around the same time that I received my COVID-19 booster shot and was experiencing what I thought were flu-like symptoms: nausea, cold sweats, fatigue, overall malaise.
Looking back, I ignored all the warning signs—until January 12, when massive chest pains came during a night out at the theater with a friend. I rushed to the nearest hospital emergency room.
One out of 4 deaths each year is caused by a heart attack, per the CDC. That’s a staggering 659,000 people—and I came dangerously close to being one of them.
Both sides of my family have a history of heart disease; in fact, my father died of a second heart attack at age 57 and my mother had a major heart procedure late in life. Even so, I did not think to make an appointment with a cardiologist, and my internist never suggested preliminary tests.
An electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed that one of my arteries was 99% blocked. In all, I had three stents put in my heart at the catheterization lab at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.
During my procedures, a single nagging thought worried me: Please let me live to continue to care for Adam, my son who has high-functioning autism.
Adam turned 16 the day after my heart attack. I was so worried about missing his birthday that my nurses kept reminding me to get better so that I would be there for his 17th birthday—and many more after that.
As I continue to recover, I recognize this was my wake-up call. Each day, I am working to change my mindset, diet, stress level, exercise routine and everything else while still working as a writer and caring for my son and our home.
Friends, family and dedicated nurses continue to remind me that “each day is a gift, so please remember to always use it wisely.”
I see life through a new lens now, and I’m grateful for my second chance—and the opportunity to share my story in the hope of helping others take control of their health.
While I was initially hyper-focused on doing everything perfectly, I have to be careful not to slip back into bad habits, like skipping exercise sessions and indulging in fatty or sugary foods. I constantly ask myself, “How do I want to live my new heart-healthy lifestyle?” The answer: I want to live each day to the fullest and find that balance that we all so desperately yearn for.