A Heart Attack Survivor Shares What She Has Learned
Traci Joyce of Makawao, Hawaii, had a heart attack in 2013 (you may have read her articles, Lunch Bucket List and One Year in previous issues of Heart Insight). Hers involved blockage in two arteries, and she waited several days before seeking treatment, which complicated her recovery. “My waiting to go to the hospital caused significant heart muscle damage,” Traci said. “Plus my EKG showed I’d had a previous heart attack.”
She says her emotions were all over the place, from being depressed to feeling that she had dodged a bullet, from fear of another event to a new appreciation for life.
As for “normal chest pain,” she said: “This is the million-dollar question. After almost checking out, I tend to go to the ER with anything that could be another heart attack and then get sent home. I have reduced the number of visits over the past year as I’ve learned what isn’t heart attack pain.”
She has a high opinion of cardiac rehab: “I think cardiac rehab is absolutely necessary for any heart patient. It provides a safe place to exercise and learn your new capabilities. You wear a heart monitor while exercising and are under the supervision of a trainer and a cardiac nurse, and they both watch for any irregularities. There is a natural fear of what we can and cannot do after a heart attack and that fear can paralyze you. Cardiac rehab built my confidence as well as my stamina.”
Traci has made important changes to her lifestyle. “I smoked for 35 years and I know it was bad. Having tried numerous times to quit, I can honestly say, ‘Get help with this, and tell yourself that the very next cigarette could literally be the death of you.’ That helps.
“You have to make changes to how you eat and you need to be as active as you can. It seemed overwhelming to me with everything else I was freaking out about at first. Furthermore, just make up your mind to take your meds — I have them for blood pressure and cholesterol control. Work on eating better and don’t make taking your meds a problem.”
Traci was readmitted to the hospital within three days because of low blood pressure and an allergic reaction to medications. Three months after her MI she had a second surgery to open a second artery that was blocked.
As for her follow-up appointments: “Having a checklist for each visit is a good idea, but I have to say that I think my cardiologist gave me ‘canned answers’ and not answers specific to my recovery. For example, I had a blockage in two arteries, stupidly waited five days to seek treatment after symptoms, as a result I suffered significant heart muscle damage, my ejection fraction was less than 30 percent, but I was told that I could return to work in two weeks. What? Seriously?
“After my second surgery, I experienced more problems and emotionally I was a wreck. There was no way I could even imagine returning to work even after a couple of months, but I continuously beat myself up for that because I was given a statistic and did not understand why I wasn’t better.”
Two more things: “What I want to convey to any new heart patient is this: You are the only one who knows how you feel. You should go for treatment if you feel something isn’t right and do not leave discouraged if they find nothing. Instead, be encouraged because you have just been reassured that your heart is working fine.
Traci Joyce with husband Clark and granddaughter Thea
“Second, definitely talk to your doctor about the meds. Some have nasty side effects, some just mildly annoying. They can be tweaked if there are problems, but do not stop taking them on your own. I know that my best defense against another heart attack — or worse, early death — is to take the meds because the benefits far outweigh the side effects.
“This is the way I am taking control of my health, by choosing to trust and follow my cardiologist’s instructions. I know people with cases similar to mine who dumped their meds and are surfing and hiking like it never happened. It’s a personal choice, but not one to be made without information.”
Editor's Note: If you or someone you care about has had a heart attack, be sure to see the first of a four-part After A Heart Attack series, After A Heart Attack: What Happens Now?