Friday, March 30, 2012

An anniversary wish

Each year when the anniversary of my heart attack rolls around, I do something to mark the date.

That first anniversary, in 2010, was the most emotional. From listening to other women's experiences, I knew to expect something of an emotional roller coaster. Paul's mother was in the final stages of the cancer that took her life, and he was down in Florida spending as much time as possible with her. So I invited a very small group of friends to be with me to help me celebrate, and they stayed with me as I went from being thrilled to be alive one minute, to crying the next.

The second anniversary, in 2011, was more upbeat and was dinner out at my favorite restaurant with Paul and a few friends.

This year, the third anniversary, the word seems to be "introspective." I woke up around 4am and my brain was going, thinking in particular about a recent news item from the UK, where a woman had shown up at the A&E (their equivalent to our ER), had three abnormal EKGs, but was discharged with no treatment, and she died a few hours later. How many women have to die before our cardiac symptoms are taken seriously?

Every day, I'm grateful to the hospital staff who no doubt saved my life. The ER doc could have easily sent me home, with my normal EKG, no heart damage visible on the chest X-ray, and no elevated cardiac enzymes on the first round of blood work. My dissected artery would have continued to tear, and probably would have torn completely the next time I did any exercise. My friends and family could have been marking a very different anniversary today.

In October of 2009 I trained at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN to be a volunteer women's heart health advocate, a WomenHeart Champion. Here in 2012, getting the word out is just as much of an uphill battle today as it was then. We need to get women as aware of heart disease as they are of breast cancer, and we need to get the medical community on board with accurate diganosis and treatment of women with heart disease.

On this third anniversary of my heart attack, this is my wish: that every woman talk to her healthcare provider about her heart disease risk, that every woman who seeks medical help for heart attack symptoms gets accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, and that no more women have to die because it couldn't possibly be their hearts.