Wednesday, November 10, 2010

100,000 Heartbeats - click to donate

Hey everyone, you know The Hunger Site/The Animal Rescue Site/The Breast Cancer Site/Literacy, etc, where you can click daily and a donation is made to the cause?

That's what this is. It's on the level, totally not any kind of urban legend "Bill Gates will send you $0.01 for every email" sort of thing.

All you have to do is click, and unlike the Hunger Site, you can click multiple times/day.

The money goes to the organization I volunteer for, WomenHeart: the national coalition for women with heart disease. WomenHeart spends eighty-one cents of every dollar they receive on actual programs, which if you do any work with non-profits, you know that's a great percentage.

If you're so inclined, please click, and as always with stuff like this, please feel free to steal and repost.

Plus, after you click, it does this really cool "beating heart" thing that reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe. What's not to love? ;)

Monday, October 11, 2010

I did it!

I was 40 years old and training for a super-sprint triathlon when I had my SCAD (spontaneous coronary artery dissection) and heart attack in March of '09.

I don't smoke, I'm not diabetic, I don't have clogged arteries, don't have high blood pressure, and don't have sleep apnea. In August of '08 I'd started a diet and exercise plan and had dropped around 20 pounds, then in January of '09 I started training for my first triathlon.

So I don't know who was more surprised by my heart attack, the doctors or me. They fixed me up with six stents in my right coronary artery and after a week in the hospital sent me on my way. I did 12 weeks of cardiac rehab then got clearance to start training.

There have been several challenges and obstacles this year, mainly my mother-in-law's diagnosis of lung cancer, her declining health following alleged successful tumor removal surgery, and then her death in April this year.

Two of our three cats also developed health problems earlier this year, and we had to put them to sleep last week.

With all of that, it's been difficult at times to muster the mental and emotional energy to get to the gym, to get on the bike, to wake up early on Saturdays and go to the pool.


Yesterday I competed in and finished the Ramblin' Rose Triathlon in Chapel Hill.

Nineteen months after my heart attack, I am now a triathlete. Some people in my family doubted that this day would come, but it has. :)

My awesome husband cheered me on and took pictures, some of which you can see here:

So if you're just out of the hospital, if you've just been diagnosed, if you're still at the scared and confused stage, this is me telling you that you CAN persevere, you CAN still follow your dreams.

Yes, I have heart disease. I also now have a triathlon finisher's medal. :)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Think Pink, and Make a List!

OK ladies, it's October, and we all know what that means--pink everywhere you look. :)

The breast cancer awareness folks have really done a stellar job getting the word out, and the evidence is all around us this month, awash in pink.

What I propose to do is create a list of pink products, so that we can then contact those businesses and ask them what they plan to do for American Heart Month in February, given that heart disease kills five times as many women as breast cancer.

Here's a couple I've found so far; please feel free to add to this list.

1. Coldwater Creek's Try it on for the Cure:

2. Dansko's Pink Ribbon clog:

3. The Hunger Site, where you click once/day to give free food, has several sister sites, including a breast cancer one where you can click to fund free mammograms for women in need:

4. Web search company Yahoo! is going pink for October, too:

5. Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt's "Give Hope With Every Cup" donates $ from specially-market yogurt cups to the National Breast Cancer Foundation:

Ultimately, I'd like to see February turned as red as October is pink.

What I don't want is for this post to turn into a sort of "my disease is worse than yours" thing. Cancer is bad, and so's heart disease; it's safe to say that no one ever wants to get either one.

What I'm saying is that we can learn from the breast cancer publicity machine, so send me those links to the pink products/services you've found so far. :)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Did the AHA Heart Walk Yesterday

Did the AHA's Heart Walk today with my friend Christine and with fellow heart-sister Tesca and her family--thanks again for walking with me, everyone!

We got to the site a little after 1pm and walked around, checking out all the booths. I still had my red "survivor" cap from last year so I didn't get another one but did get a 2010 Heart Walk pin.

There were around 15,000 people at the event (WRAL says 20,000), and a fair few peeled off after the one-mile walk, while we die-hards did the whole (almost) three miles.

At the last turn before crossing the finish line, the people who'd already finished kind of clustered up and were cheering on the people still walking. As I neared the finish line, an older gentleman also wearing a "survivor" hat came up and shook my hand and congratulated me.

I have to remember not to pair up these particular socks with my running shoes again; I'm getting a big blister on the outside of my right foot between my ankle and heel.

One thing that stood out was the lack of water stations along the course. I did the one-mile walk last year and there was no water on the course, but I thought surely they'd have it for the three-mile walk. They had water beforehand, and apples. Afterward, there were Subway sandwiches, apples, and Diet Pepsi, but Chris and I both said, "Eeew no," to the Diet Pepsi. Note to self: if walking next year, grab all the water bottles I can carry before the walk starts.

One cool thing was that they had Duke's mobile cath lab there, so I went in and looked around and listened while they talked about what happens during a heart cath. It was nice to see all the equipment and such from an upright position, as opposed to laying down and drugged. It was a little freaky, but my feeling is that exposure will help.

Last year, in preparation for the WomenHeart Symposium at the Mayo Clinic, they'd sent us a textbook and one of the chapters we had to read was on heart procedures. I thought I was doing fine and I actually had sat down to eat supper while reading about heart caths.

I got a few paragraphs in and looked at the detailed illustrations, and had a panic attack. I started getting lightheaded and short of breath and my vision was starting to tunnel. I had to get my husband to come help me upstairs so I could lay down for a little while and wait for the feelings to subside.

While at Mayo, we had a chance to tour a cath lab, and I did it. I was worried some about having another panic attack, but again, seeing everything while standing up seemed to make a difference, and it was good to see actual examples of stents. They're really small, about the size of the spring from a ballpoint pen.

As for this year's Heart Walk, the weirdest giveaway goes to UNC Cardiovascular--most booths had something at least vaguely heart-related, you know, healthy recipe cards, water bottles, etc. UNC has now ensured that whenever Paul and I need it, we have MORE COWBELL. That's right, they were giving away cowbells. :)

Thanks again to everyone who came out and walked with me, and who sent donations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dragon*Con, Blood Thinners, and You: Or, Where Did All of These Bruises Come From?

Most of you have heard me talk some about how I really don't fit the media stereotype of the heart attack survivor—the most obvious thing being that I'm not a 60-70 year old, type A personality male. I'm a 42-year old woman (40 when the heart attack happened) who doesn't have high blood pressure, doesn't smoke, isn't diabetic and doesn't have clogged arteries. I'm overweight but had been dieting and exercising for several months and taken off around 20 pounds when I woke up that morning with crushing chest pain.

I'm also unusual in the heart disease community because I'm, well, let's face it: I'm a geek. I'm a nerd. I was the kid in high school who was in the AP/advanced classes. I took one of the first computer processing classes offered at my high school (on TRS-80s, no less)—we spent a semester on BASIC, then spent a quarter split into small groups to write a program in COBOL. When my world history teacher did review sessions at the end of the semester and gave extra credit for correctly-answered questions, he wouldn't let me play—said it would skew his grading curve too badly. I wear glasses.

I have volunteered at and run science fiction conventions in my home town. I play role-playing games (Champions/Hero System, if you must know). I love Star Trek, Babylon 5, Futurama, Firefly/Serenity, Farscape, the new Battlestar Galactica, and more. My favorite authors write series you've probably never heard of: Honor Harrington, Skolian saga, Saint Germain chronicles, Deryni series, Liaden universe, Technic civilization. At my day-job, I work for a science fiction publisher. I read comics and love comic-book characters, with Batman being a particular favorite.

My husband and I spent Labor Day weekend congregating with our tribe, our people, our fellow geeks and nerds. Maybe you've heard of San Diego Comic Con? The event we attended this past weekend is similar, but is run by a hardworking corps of volunteers and takes place in Atlanta every year: Dragon*Con.

Some people jokingly call it "Nerdi Gras," and that's as good a quick description as any. You'll find people of all shapes and sizes in costumes of all types, from cartoon characters to the latest sf TV shows—one family came as the characters from Scooby Doo, someone else dressed up as the Witch King from Lord of the Rings, there were several Batmans and Supermans, and the group that won the Sunday night masquerade did steampunk versions of the X-Men. Lots of people, including me, have no talent at costuming; we just wear comfortable clothes and admire the skill and chutzpah of the people who do take the time to dress up.

There are 37 tracks of programming, so there's always something to do—usually two or three things are happening at once and you want to go to all of them, so you have to make hard choices: Jim Butcher autograph session, or discussion on the lasting impact of H.P. Lovecraft, or Q&A with the cast of Firefly?

Somewhere around 50,000 people streamed into downtown Atlanta to take part in the con (short for "convention," not "con game"), and I do mean "take part," because the people become part of the experience—via costumes, via interacting with panelists, meeting fellow fans while waiting in line, hosting or attending parties, taking pictures. It's an interactive experience. Wear comfortable shoes.

If you're at all crowd-phobic, you may need to take steps to make sure that you can fully enjoy your weekend at Dragon*Con. The public areas of the hotels hosting the Dealers' rooms—where you'll find everything for sale from leather corsets to T-shirts with snarky sayings to dice in all colors, shapes and sizes—and large events like concerts and some of the really popular panels turn into wall-to-wall people, especially on Saturday.

As a short woman who apparently projects an invisibility shield, people were bumping into me, stepping on me, and cutting me off all weekend. Even when my 6' husband was holding my hand, we'd still get separated. It seriously made me wish I had a taser.

That said, once I'd fought my way through the crowds, ultimately I enjoyed whatever event or panel I went to.

Then the bruises started showing up.

This is the legacy of having a heart attack: taking Plavix and a full-strength aspirin every day. Sometimes a bruise shows up and I know exactly what happened. "Oh, I banged my shin on the coffee table last night in the dark." Other times, a bruise'll appear and I'll have no idea what I did; maybe someone looked at me cross-eyed.

Most of the ones incurred from the full-contact sport of getting from place to place at Dragon*Con aren't visible; they're on my legs and feet, with one on the last two knuckles of my right hand that falls into the "I have no IDEA where that came from" category.

If you're on blood thinners, arnica gel is your friend. It really does help the bruises fade faster. It won't disguise them if you're self-conscious about them where they show (next post: why Capri pants and 3/4-sleeve shirts are a Plavix-girl's friend), but they will disappear quicker than they would otherwise. I spent time every morning and evening at D*C putting arnica on my battle-scars.

As a heart disease patient, I also modify the standard travel-size emergency kit to include a list of current meds, emergency contact info, nitro pills and baby aspirin, and of course my trusty tube of arnica gel. You can get it at most organic food co-ops and also places like Whole Foods.

This is a good time for me to remind people to get and wear a medical ID of some sort—bracelet, necklace, there are a TON of options in every style, color, and price range, and there's no excuse to not wear one. Many times at Dragon*Con, my husband and I were attending different events in different hotels. Depending on your carrier, cell phone reception in the various host hotels ranged from OK to decent to horrible. If something had happened to me, it would have taken some doing to track him down, but thankfully I was always wearing my medical ID bracelet.

One thing that happened over the weekend that meant a lot to me was getting to meet Kevin Sorbo. If you don't know his work, he's an actor who played Hercules in the show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as Capt. Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.

Right after my heart attack, I was, to put it mildly, freaked out and scared. The heart attack was in late March and my birthday is in early May; for my birthday that year I received a lot of gift certificates. I pooled them together and bought the box set of Hercules.

I was only out of work for a couple of weeks, then it was back in the saddle, and I started up cardiac rehab a few weeks after getting out of the hospital.

It was wonderful to come home in the evenings and be able to put on an episode of Hercules and get transported to another place and time for awhile and not have to think about what had happened to me. Not have to look at the scar on my wrist where they stuck an arterial line my third night in the hospital. Not sitting at the computer reading scary statistics about spontaneous dissections. Having a little bit of time where I didn't have to remember that my life had changed forever and I could never go back to the way things used to be.

An author friend who'd met Kevin at a previous convention offered to introduce me, and since I get so tongue-tied around people, I accepted. While we waited for him to show up at his table, Tim and his wife Anna took me around and introduced me to some of the other Dragon*Con guests at the Walk of Fame: Peter Mayhew, Raelee Hill, Claudia Christian, and then... Kevin Sorbo.

After they introduced me, I bought a photo and got it autographed—then got incoherent and weepy. I think I managed to get out "Thanks... box set Hercules... helped me through a really scary time of my life... heart attack... freaked out... thanks for the entertainment and distraction..." He was really sweet and gave me a hug. I'm tearing up a little now just writing about it. I just wanted to make sure he knew that I appreciated him and the show and what it meant to me.

The con could have ended right after that, and I would have counted it as a win. But there was still another day's worth of entertainment, including having dinner with a friend and watching the Masquerade (a costume contest) from the comfort of our hotel room. One thing that Dragon*Con does is to have some of the larger, more popular events broadcast to the TVs in the host hotels, over a private channel called D*CTV (Dragon*Con TV). So sometimes you don't have to fight through the crowds to see your favorite events.

All in all, it was a great weekend full of memories that I'll carry with me for a lifetime.

Having heart disease doesn't mean you stop enjoying life; it means you take a few precautions and get out there and keep living.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Networking--More Ways to Find Local WomenHeart Groups

Now there's a WomenHeart Meetup for the Triangle area:

And we have a FaceBook page, too:

This afternoon was what I hope will be the first of many annual Triangle WomenHeart cookouts, at Lake Crabtree County Park near the RDU airport. We had about 15 women there, which is great turnout for one of our events, and with the overcast skies and drizzle, temperatures stayed in the high 70s; it was quite comfortable most of the time.

Everyone really seemed to enjoy sharing her own story of heart disease, even the ones who are part of the group not because they have it, but because they have a strong family history, and/or they have a lot of risk factors (diabetes, weight, high blood pressure, etc.).

The age range was good, too; we had a couple of older ladies in their 70s, and some young ones in their 30s, and everything in between.

Good food, and good companionship. I'm hoping to do it again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

Friday, May 7, 2010

AHA's Go Red Luncheon Today

Today was the AHA's Go Red luncheon.

Lunch was at the Crabtree Marriott in Raleigh and was very nice, except that my chicken was under-done so I left still feeling a bit hungry. On the up side, I finally got to meet in person another local heart-sister whom I've been emailing and Facebooking with for several months, and that was great. We had a wonderful time just standing around and talking, though we did take the opportunity to attend one of the break-out sessions on exercise and yoga. I wonder if I can get work to buy me a stabili-ball chair...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Triangle-area Heart Events

Saturday, Feb. 20th is Your Heart, Your Health: A Red Dress Celebration, presented by the Duke Heart Center.

Friday, May 7th is the Triangle Go Red for Women Lunch at the Crabtree Marriott.

Other events will be posted as I find them. Sometimes it's difficult getting information, but I promise to share what I learn.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Getting some press for women's heart disease

I'm in the February issue of Carolina Woman magazine:

In mid-January I sent out a press release to the various local media outlets, asking them to please do something for National Wear Red Day and American Heart Month, and included a bit of my own story.

This time I got two nibbles. Fingers crossed, there's going to be a story soon in the local daily paper with another young heart attack survivor and and me, and then a couple weeks ago Carolina Woman magazine called and said they wanted to run my press release as kind of a "letter to the editor." So of course I said great, and now there it is. :)

Of course if I'd known they were going to run it as-is with no chance to alter it, I would've put more in it about the three local WomenHeart support groups, but at least the website is in there.

In other heart-healthy news, I've just registered for the women-only Ramblin' Rose Triathlon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

One Month From Today: National Wear Red Day Feb. 5th!

Mark your calendars and find your snazziest red outfit!

From the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute site:

Friday, February 5, 2010, is National Wear Red Day here in the US--a day when Americans nationwide will take women's health to heart by wearing red to show their support for women's heart disease awareness. The Red Dress, the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness, was created by The Heart Truth in 2002 to deliver an urgent wake-up call to American women.

Join The Heart Truth on National Wear Red Day to help spread the critical message that "Heart Disease Doesn't Care What You Wear--It's the #1 Killer of Women."

Everyone can participate in the national movement by wearing their favorite red dress, shirt, tie, or Red Dress Pin on Friday, February 5, 2010.

If you don't have something red to wear, you've got a month to stimulate the economy by picking up something red to wear, or getting a red dress pin. :)

NIH red dress pin:

AHA's red dress pin:

Canada's version of The Heart Truth and the Canadian red dress pin:

As far as I know, the UK doesn't have anything like the Heart Truth/Red Dress campaign, but if someone knows of one, please let me know and I'll add a link. Thanks.

Actually, the entire month of February is American Heart Month.

The CDC has animated e-cards that you can send to friends, family and co-workers to remind them to please wear red on the first Friday in February: