My name is Kelly Dawes and I am 44 years old. I had my first heart attack at the age of 31, though it went undiagnosed. Approximately 6 months later, at the age of 32, I had the same symptoms again.
That time I was sent to the hospital and discovered I had a heart attack, with 99% blockage in the "widow maker" artery. The symptoms were the same both times. I had tightness in my chest that wasn't unbearable for me, but it was a nagging and uncomfortable (very unusual) feeling. Also, my left arm really ached, as if I had worked out and was incredibly sore. My breathing was fine, and it was easy to talk and go up and down my stairs.
The first time it happened, I talked to a nurse on the phone. The following day I saw our family's primary care physician. Both people diagnosed my symptoms as a chest cold. They were aware of mymedical history, having juvenile Type 1 Diabetes for the past 20 years, and they knew that I smoked cigarettes off and on. But I exercised regularly (I boxed at the gym), had great labs, low blood pressure, and had long been a vegetarian. After the first occurrence of unusual symptoms that were dismissed as a chest cold I went on with life, never thinking about it again. I kept boxing, coached little league and had a very active life.
Months later, in November of 2001, I had those unusual symptoms again. So I ignored it. It had been dismissed before by more than one medical professional, so I knew the odd feeling was nothing. The next day my endocrinologist (a diabetes specialist) called in regards to changing my insulin dose. I decided to tell him about the wacky symptoms. He simply said "Get to the ER right now." I thought, 'How odd.' I kept asking why, but he didn't answer. I eventually followed his advice and went to the emergency room later that night, and everything changed from there...
After the blood work showed the presence of enzymes released due to the heart attack the previous night (the previous night when I decided I could ignore it!!), more tests were done and an angiogram was scheduled for the following day. My angiogram turned into an angioplasty with 2 stents placed in my arteries. I was in cardiac ICU for 2 to 3 weeks (can't remember exactly). The entire time I heard the same thing from doctors and nurses, "What are you doing here???" and "You don't fit the profile." (I still hear this in fact.) I was a young, fit, healthy looking 32-year-old woman.
The cardiologist feels that my diabetes caused the heart attack(s). I've always had tight control of my diabetes, and since the heart attack I am even more on top of it. Not a lot has changed since the heart attack. I am still a vegetarian and I still exercise often. I quit smoking. I stay up to date with the latest studies on heart disease and diabetes, and talk to my doctors often about my findings. We sometimes make adjustments to my medications based on the information from these studies.
I am my own best advocate, and it is empowering. Because I have unusually low blood pressure, many of the medications or doses that I need I am not able to take, but I do ask my doctors to be as aggressive as possible in their treatment. I currently take a very low dose of Altace, along with baby aspirin, Plavix, and Lipitor daily. I take various vitamins. I keep close track of my labs and always compare the results. I am on multiple insulin injections daily and because of the blood thinners that I take, I often have bruises all over from the injections or from other things. I carry Nitrostat everywhere I go in case I feel a heart attack or symptoms starting.
WHAT'S THE D–I–S–H?
D - DEFINE your DILEMMA
I knew something was not right, but my youth and active lifestyle made me feel invincible and strong. I thought that because I looked good on the outside I was obviously healthy on the inside. Having control of my diabetes made me think that I had control of my health overall. Also, although I did not feel normal I completely trusted others in regards to my body instead of getting another opinion regarding the escalating symptoms.
I - IDENTIFY your INSPIRATION
At the time of my heart attack my son was 11 years old. Knowing how hurt he was to see me in the hospital made me realize that my health was not just my concern. My son was counting on my being there for important moments in his life. It was not fair to him for our time together to but cut short because I was not taking preventative measures to stay healthy. He should not have to grow up without a mom because I did not advocate for my own health.
S - SHARE your STORY
After being released from the hospital, again, I looked well on the outside, but inside I was afraid. I feared that I hadn't fully prepared my son for life. I began talking to him about the future, his plans, his desires, and spending more quality time with him. I prepared him for manhood by providing him with loving tips about life and our family. I shared with him more stories about me. I was afraid that there would be another heart attack before I could fully give him the tools to be successful. Without realizing it, I was trying to "parent" a lifetime of lessons into him in a short amount of time. That was the scariest time of my life.
H - HEAL your HEART
I feel like there was no way to predict the heart attack. Due to my age, fitness level and other factors, there was no reason for the doctor to have ordered any type of heart testing back then. I do regret that the first heart attack went overlooked and dismissed due to my youth and appearance. But I don't blame anyone. I learned at a young age, being diagnosed with diabetes, that I cannot control everything in life. The heart attack only confirmed this more.
The things I can control and do with passion are: taking control of my diabetes, being my own best advocate of my health care treatment, learning everything I can about my disease(s) and how to fight to stay as healthy as I can, and mostly that I appreciate even the smallest things in life. Now I am a personal trainer for seniors and people with chronic illness and health issues. What a change of events! Most importantly, I watched my son graduate from college last year. I'm looking forward to many more milestones with him.
Relationships aren’t just something we have with other people. We have a relationship with ourselves, and a relationship with our bodies. Just like any other instance, sometimes paying attention to the relationship, nurturing it, and investing energy and care isn’t enough to keep it healthy. Sometimes we can do everything “right” and still have to face something gone wrong. We willingly ignore the obvious signs and opt to silently suffer as we notice changes in our bodies or spirit. It's scary to face our vulnerabilities and admit that there may be an issue that should be addressed.
At the end of February, in recognition of Heart Health Awareness, we celebrate the women who have faced physical matters of the heart and emerged with a Diva's strength and tenacity!!! The DISH honoring Kelly’s D–I–S–H is a delicious heart healthy Four Mushroom Soup. It takes a little bit of work to find the right mushrooms, but it’s worth the time and attention...and reminds us that we are worth time and attention too.