I had always lived a very active lifestyle. I ran track all through high school and for a PAC-10 college, and lettered in basketball and volleyball. I was a very competitive skier and at 45 qualified to ski at Nationals, for my age division, at Steamboat Springs. I hiked, I biked, I ran, you name it …..l did it .

But I also complained of my chest “just not feeling right” many times throughout those years. would always described it as it felt like my heart was flip-flopping and if I was very tired my heart woLePetitStudio--5 Go Red Survivor Galleryuld feel very heavy in my chest .

Several times I had sought help from the medical profession. Each time I was given various diagnoses: anxiety attack, heart murmur, mitral valve prolapse, stress from being a single mother with teenagers, even gall bladder disease. Also, each time I sought help I did explain to the provider that I do have a strong family history of heart disease and that my father died of a massive heart attack at 46 – but I was still dismissed.

The episode that turned everything around occurred nearly 4 years ago, on March 21st. That morning I woke up and wasn’t feeling 100% and when I got to work we were in crisis-mode the minute I stepped in the door.  As the morning went on I started having a very sharp pain in my left bi-cep. It felt like the vein in my arm was going to pop there was so much pressure.

Then the pain was in my shoulder, my neck and my jaw. We had nurses at our facility so I told my co-workers I needed to go see the nurse, they had no idea I wasn’t feeling well, because as women we just keep plugging along like nothing is wrong .

When I got to the nurse’s office they took my blood pressure and it was off the charts. They waited a couple of minutes and the other nurse took my BP in case it was a malfunction with the cuff, or human error. Again, it was sky-high. They told me they were very concerned that I might be having a heart attack and they needed to call 911- I, of course, became very upset.

When the paramedics got there they quickly assessed me and decided they needed to take me to St. Francis to see my regular physician rather than Bristol Hospital, which was closer. That decision probably made all the difference in my situation.  When I got to St. Francis they did all the usual stuff: EKG, BP, took blood….and they told me this looks like a heart attack, except for the EKG. The EKG still looked like everything was normal. However, the cardiologist knew there had to be something going on.  The course of action at that point was to admit me to the hospital and have me undergo a stress test in the morning.

I was nervous going for the stress test, but everyone kept reminding me I was young, in good shape, and this will help determine what was going on with me. I did the treadmill version of the stress test and the technician confirmed I was doing great and that this episode was probably just acid reflux.

The next part of the stress test was to have the second set of pictures taken with the nuclear imaging machine. {The first set was taken before the treadmill exercise) Again, I was told everything looked fine and I would probably be going home soon.

Later that afternoon the cardiologist came in to talk to me and my husband. He handed me the report from the stress test and the first word I saw was ischemia – I immediately knew what that meant – I had had a heart attack. The cardiologist explained to me that due to the damage to my heart this was probably not the first heart attack I have had and they needed to do an angiogram to determine what the cause was.

The next morning I was taken downstairs for my angiogram and put into a twilight sleep.

During the angiogram, I could hear my cardiologist say, “There it is!” Once they woke me up the cardiologist showed me the tape of the angiogram and you could see the blood flow in its normal pattern and then just disappear, and then reappear again.   Instead of the artery going on the outside of the heart, mine was on the inside of the heart, otherwise known as a myocardial bridge. A condition that only 5% of the population has and most people who are athletes with this condition usually die in their 20’s from overexertion. For me, this meant that every time I underwent stress the increased beating of my heart was decreasing the flow of blood, and creating stress on my heart – and it appears that several of those times I did experience mild heart attacks.

I have since been put on medication which slows down my heart and my metaboJulie Vigil Go Red Survivor Gallerylism – which in turn caused a 30 pound weight gain, and beta-blockers to keep my blood pressure low, even though I don’t have high blood pressure. And I will always need to carry nitroglycerin pills with me – just in case.

The key takeaways from my experience: Be a very strong advocate for your health – I knew something wasn’t right. Also, be mindful that even the healthiest person can still have heart disease.

A special thank you to Christine Petit of Le Petit Studio for taking photos of the Hoffman Go Red Gallery women. www.PetitPics.com

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