By Erica Annise
Heart disease consistently shows the world how powerful it is by the increase number of deaths. Over 600,000 people die each year from a heart related event. People don’t believe that it will affect them. The truth is, it will. Almost every American will be affected by heart disease in some way by the time of their death. We must equip ourselves with knowledge about the many forms of heart disease which will give us the power to live longer lives.
By putting preventative measures in place, we can change our health trajectory and live longer happy lives.
Here is a peek into one of the days that changed my life.
It was September 2015 and I recall a few days before the incident not feeling well but thinking it was just the stress of our recent move from NYC to DC. I was going non-stop and on very little sleep upon getting on a plane headed out of the country for work.
I made it to the Dominican Republic safely, but still didn’t feel my normal self. As I got ready to attend my first event I felt sluggish and a bit scattered but I continued on. As the evening progressed and felt more exhausted. I decided the best thing for me was to return to my room and rest. I got in bed and prayed I would feel better in the morning. About 3am, my body woke me up. It was very weird, but one I will never forget and don’t want anyone else to overlook. My body was giving me a chance to help myself because something was wrong. I sat up in the bed and prayed. Then I asked God to please protect me from whatever was happen. I felt this strange movement underneath my skin on my face, I felt my speech slowing down. I felt very tired and unable to really focus. I recall thinking maybe it was a bad reaction to something I ate and hoped Benadryl would fix me right up. As I popped pills in my mouth. I also pulled out my phone and started videotaping what was happening. Then I looked in the mirror and saw one side of my face drooping. So I knew then whatever this was, it was serious. I called the only person I knew, whom I had just meet on the plane, and asked her to come to my room to help me.
We facetimed my doctors in Dallas and they told me I needed to seek medical attention immediately because from what they could tell mixed with my health history. I was probably having a heart event. We went to the hospital while my husband made arrangements to fly me straight to Dallas where my medical team immediately admitted me onto the neurological intensive care unit. I had had a mini stroke, a Trans Ischemic Attack or “TIA.” When blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time, also called transient ischemic attack (TIA), it can mimic stroke-like symptoms. These symptoms appear and last less than 24 hours before disappearing. While TIAs generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign that a stroke may happen in the future and should not be ignored.
I think this was the first time that I was at a loss with what was happening to me. As a wellness and heart health advocate, I thought I knew all I needed to know to stay out of the hospital. Heart disease is not a disease you are cured from; it’s a lifetime affliction. I, like so many others, began to believe that if I was not in the hospital then, I was out of danger. That’s not the truth. If you have ever been diagnosed with heart disease then you have heart disease for life. There is no true scientific evidence that says you can be cured from this disease. By making permanent lifestyle changes to your diet and daily activity you lessen your risk but never rid yourself of the fear that you are one heartbeat away from death. It just proves that you have to always listen to your body and act on those impulses because it could save your life.
The fact that I cut my evening short to get rest was my first life-saving act. If I had stayed up even a couple of more hours who knows what that extra time would have done to the extent of my stroke.
After being in the hospital for a week and many tests later, we were told I was in heart failure and that my ejection fraction was at 30% (normal is 55% or higher). Ejection fraction, is a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving your heart each time it contracts.
I recall my hospital room becoming silent. My family and I were all very shocked and in dismay because I believed, my family believed, if I just took my medicine and did all the doctors said I would be okay.
I was sent to the Mayo Hospital where I was properly diagnosed with Left Ventricular Non-Compaction and Congestive Heart Failure.
Left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy (LVNC) the lower left chamber of the heart, called the left ventricle, contains bundles or pieces of muscle that extend into the chamber. These pieces of muscles are called trabeculations. During development, the heart muscle is a sponge-like network of muscle fibers.
As a heart disease survivor, I now know that you should always be aware of your signs and symptoms. Our bodies speak to us about what is going on whether it is good or bad. It’s up to us to listen. I am sharing my story to help save someone else’s heart. I wish that I would have read, heard or been told a testimony to empower me to ask more questions about my risk and heart disease as a woman and an African-American. Both of my paternal grandparents and father died from heart related events. This family history should have been enough of a neon sign for me and my family to discuss my predisposition of suffering from heart disease but it wasn’t. It would take me being near death before we stopped and took a good look at the disease that had plagued us for so many generations.
We are our best advocates and, in so many cases, our only one. We must set our medical team up for success by clearly and precisely articulating our symptoms so they can properly diagnose us. As well as our overall healthcare. Because I videotaped my first symptoms, I helped my medical team make a proper diagnosis. It’s important to journal all medical concerns and questions so that you have a blueprint to help medical professionals take great care of you. Information can save your life. Knowledge is power. It’s imperative as a survivor to constantly be aware of your symptoms because you are always at risk of a having a heart event. Know the signs that are pertinent to you.
Here are key things to remember for matters of the heart.
• Be aware of the statistics for heart disease for people that look like you.
• Know your family medical history.
• Know your average blood pressure and heart rate so you know when you’re too high or too low.
• Know the signs of heart disease.
• Know your personal risk factors.
• Take time to be active in your everyday life.
• Take time to get proper rest.
• Look at how to enhance your dietary needs to be heart smart.
We, as women, must stand for the betterment of ourselves which will help our families and communities. If we don’t do what’s best for us, how can we expect the medical profession to perform miracles as a moment’s notice. Let’s do it together. Become a heart partner with me at www.ericaannise.com.