Posted in Inspiration, Life

Fearing the big 4-0!

It doesn’t seem possible – my 40th birthday is just around the corner! For years I had stressed about approaching this next decade, nervous that my mid 40’s would quickly draw near – an age that no one in the family who has had a heart condition similar to mine has lived past. It’s funny how a simple number can create so much stress and anxiety. To put it simply, I was completely freaked me out!! I felt like I was waiting for my expiration date to approach. But I didn’t want to be like that. Even though the fear of death in my 40’s still laid inside my head, I spent much of my 30’s bound determined to find ways to work through my condition so that I wouldn’t end up with the same fate. What can I say, I have been and always will be stubborn and will push myself to the limits rather than give up and throw the towel in. Regardless of what was going on in my head, I had to go above and beyond just to prove to myself and others that even though I was “sick”, I could still do everything a normal, healthy individual could do. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times of frustration, but I have always tried to remain optimistic. Wouldn’t you know, that stubborn attitude paid off! My health has improved slightly and the thought of an expiration date in my mid 40’s has subsided. The big 4-0…an age that I had been scared of has now become one that I am actually looking forward to. Through various types of therapy and the love and support of family and friends, I have cast my fears aside and I am ready to live life to the fullest; ready to live on through my 40’s, my 50’s and many years beyond. Age truly is a number. It’s time to forget those numbers and simply live. New opportunities await each one of us and new adventures are ready to be had. To my fellow friends and family also hitting a milestone this year – forgot those numbers. Set some new goals and dream some new dreams. One decade of your life may be ending, but a new one has just begun. Embrace it and enjoy it.

Happy Milestone Birthday to all those having one!!

It is not death that man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Marcus Aurelius
Posted in Education, Health

Make the switch, Lower your risk

With the month of February approaching, love is beginning to fill the air.  Red envelopes and mushy cards line the card aisles and store shelves are stocked with heart shaped boxes filled with all sorts of delectable treats.  Local florists prepare for the surge of orders for red roses and restaurants begin advertising their romantic dinners for two. But the month of February isn’t just a month that we celebrate Valentines Day.  It has also been designated as American Heart Health Month, which is jump started by the National Wear Red Day campaign, a day when everyone wears red in support of creating awareness about heart disease in women.  Naturally I participate as do my fellow employees as well.  Last year, I decided to do something different during heart month  and came up with an idea to show the impact of heart disease on our female population at work that I would like to share with all of you.

Sources indicate that 1 out of 3 women die of heart disease and stroke each year.  What’s scary is that 80% of those women who died were due to preventable risk factors.  Being overweight, smoking, eating a high sodium diet, not managing diabetes, being inactive,  not managing stress – these are all risk factors that with the right help and education, any women can change in order to lower her risk of being faced with heart disease or stroke.  The other 20% died due to unpreventable risk factors such as age or genetics – things that can unfortunately cannot change.

make-the-switchBut anyone can read statistics on paper.  I decided to put these statistics into a whole new perspective.  To exhibit the impact of these numbers at work, I choose 1/3 of our female employees as volunteers and of those volunteers, 80% of them were given my black “Make the switch, lower your risk” t-shirts to wear to exhibit the number of deaths due to preventable factors while the other 20% were given pink ones exhibited the number of deaths due to factors that could not be changed.  As you can imagine, with a group of 50 employees, majority of which were women, it became evident that the impact of such statistics could have a profound impact on just our workforce alone.  That is where I came up with the “Make the switch, lower your risk” logo that was printed on the volunteers t-shirts.  So what does it mean to “Make the switch, lower your risk”?  It’s a reminder to make a switch in your lifestyle to lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.  Even the simplest of switches in your lifestyle can help to lower your risk and help you to lead a healthier life.  All employees were given goodie bags, filled with things like information about joining our local gym, to stress balls to relieve stress, Oatmeal samples as a reminder to eat a more fibrous diet to Mrs. Dash samples to encourage a salt alternative – all sorts of items to hopefully encourage them to make a switch in order to lower their risk.

As Heart Month and Wear Red Day 2018 approach, my goal is to continue with my “Make the switch, lower your risk” campaign; Not only to bring education and awareness to my fellow employees at work, but to the public as well.  I may not be able to save the by world myself, but I hope to have an impact on at least one individual, to encourage them to make a change and to help them live a happier, healthier life!

“Recognize that every interaction you have is an opportunity to make a positive impact on others.” 

~S. Hyken

Posted in Health

Low Battery

Like all things requiring batteries, the lives of those batteries eventually comes to an end.  Even those that are rechargeable will eventually wear out, will refuse to take a charge, and become useless.  Just as our cell phones vibrate or blink to indicate when it’s time to charge them, so does the life saving device that I, like other patients with defibrillators (ICD) or pacemakers, have implanted in my chest to warn me that the battery has little life left.

low battery

Recently, after a typical day of working and hitting the gym, I came home and sat down to relax for a few minutes before heading into the kitchen for dinner.  While checking emails on my phone, I felt an incredibly strong vibration running through my arm and chest.  I quickly laid my cell phone down, only to realize it wasn’t the phone that was vibrating at all, it was the object inside of my chest – It was my ICD!!  What a strange feeling to have!! It didn’t cause any pain, but it certainly got my adrenaline pumping (and kept waking me up for the few nights that followed).  Having been to the cardiac device center a few months prior, I was informed that my devices battery was in fact getting low.  Before long, I should expect to have my device replaced.  I was also told the unit may begin to vibrate before my next appointment, a time for me to meet my new surgeon.  Go figure – just days before this appointment was to take place, the vibrations in the device began.  Unlike a cell phone, the batteries in these types of devices can’t be recharged.  No plugging ourselves into the nearest outlet and waiting for the battery indicator to read full.  Just as a check engine light that comes on to warn a driver that the car is close to running out of gas,  these warning vibrations are an indication that its time to have the device replaced as the batteries are close to running out.

So, for Christmas this year, while many will be opening gifts, filling them with fresh new batteries to play with and enjoy, I too will be equipped with new ones as well. Ones that will keep my device running and allowing me to enjoy my life for more years to come.

 

Posted in Exercise, Health

Its time to run!

Alright, it’s time to get my run on!  Many of my coworkers as well as myself will be participating in our first ever 5K Corporate Challenge this summer.  Needless to say, I can’t remember the last time my feet have hit the pavement in a full force run.  Chances are, it was probably high school!  I am a originallittle nervous about how my heart will handle it, but I am certainly up for the challenge.  Without a doubt, plenty of training to build my endurance will be necessary if I am going to make it to the finish line, and this week I shall venture out on that journey.  The fact is, if I don’t try, I will never know if my body can do it.  To some, a 5K run seems like nothing…just a walk in the park.  For others, like myself, it will be a huge accomplishment to succeed.  With confirmation from my doctor to go ahead, I just have to remember not to push so far beyond what my body can physically handle.  I have to listen to my body when it says “slow down” or “take it easy”.  Most importantly, I can’t allow myself to get discouraged quickly.  It’ll take time to work up to a full 5K run and plenty of baby steps will finish-linebe taken to get there.  Without a doubt, since I started going back to school, my diet has been horrible, a regular exercise routine non-existent, and the stress level has certainly increased.  Thankfully, however, school is nearly over and I am ready for a change and training as well as participating in this 5K will certainly offer me the stepping stone for some changes a truly need.

I look forward to sharing this experience with you and hope you all can provide me with the encouragement to succeed!

Posted in Inspiration, Life

Should I change my genes?

I know….a bit of a play on words….but I couldn’t help it.  It’s the question that popped into my head after seeing the material for this weeks Bio class assignments.  If indeed it was possible to do, to exchange the genes that cause so many inherited and detrimental diseases, should we do it?

This got me thinking (again)…If I had to choose my life (health wise) would I choose a life that wasn’t riddled with heart disease over the current life I have?

Honestly, I would keep things exactly the same.  Whether my heart disease results in me living a shorter life, like others in my family. Or perhaps a longer life, with many more years of existence to come, either way, I wouldn’t change anything at all!

Why, you may ask…

I believe that some things happen to us for a reason.  After my mother passed away and before encountering my own heart problems, I felt so lost, with no clear focus on what direction I wanted to go in life.  But nonetheless, I always felt like I was supposed to influence others in some way…the only problem was, I wasn’t sure how or what kind of influence I was supposed to be.  I continued to pray for answers, waiting for them to literally slap me in the face, saying “Here I am!  This is what you’re supposed to do with your life!”.  Obviously, it doesn’t work that way.  A few years would pass before those answers would become clear to me and I would realize what my life’s purpose truly was.  Dealing with the ups and downs of this illness as well as helping to take care of my mother when she was sick has taught me a lot about the human heart, health, and most importantly – Life!  Now, here I am, a cardiac patient dealing with a poor heart, typing a blog and writing a book in hopes to encourage others to embrace life, to be a positive influence and pushing force, as well as a “teacher”, in hopes to educate.  Sharing my experience as both a cardiac patient as well as a caregiver will give hope to others who may face similar situations.

I am sure life would have been far different had I been given a different pair of genes.  But then again, I wouldn’t be me.

“I believe that life is a journey, often difficult and sometimes incredibly cruel, but we are well equipped for it if only we tap into our talents and gifts and allow them to blossom.”
Les Brown

Posted in Inspiration

If Lincoln can do it, I can too!

As the nation recognizes and honors our presidents today, I reflect not only on the accomplishments of the men chosen throughout the years to run our country, but the obstacles they dealt with medically.  Illnesses and challenges that may have often been hidden from public as these men made choices, both good and bad, to run our nation as they saw fit.

My biggest idol, Abraham Lincoln, one of the most well known presidents from American history, suffered from severe depression.  Perhaps if he lived during our time, he would have been placed on disability, pumped full of medication to manage his symptoms, and required to see multiple doctors for his condition or perhaps admitted to a mental institution.  However, he existed before our time, before more advancements in medication  were made and procedures to deal with depression were available.  He lived what many may think today as a troubled life.  His head filled with depressing thoughts and images of low self esteem.  But as we all know, he was elected president and became one of the most recognized individuals in history because of the accomplishments achieved during his time in office.  Not all the presidents that came before or after Lincoln made such a lasting impression on our nation, but the fact that these men dealt with their illness, disabilities or handicaps and accepted their fate as not being 100% healthy did not stop them from pursuing their goals of becoming a leading man to an entire country.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

Over the years, during the time when my heart was extremely weak, before doctors found a combination of medication that would help regulate my heartbeats…a time when I was so exhausted and out of breath that I often feared that I would go to sleep and my heart would stop beating, I found part of my strength and drive from learning about others, such as our presidents, who faced illnesses, disabilities, and handicaps and kept on living life and achieved great things, leaving behind their legacy.  I was tired a majority of each day and multiple naps soon became a part of my routine, but rather than sitting home and feeling sorry for myself, I still wanted to continue working.  Photography soon became a release for me and I made time to stand behind the camera, viewing the world through a lens.  I still set goals for myself, many of which dealt with achievements in my health, they were still goals none the less.  I will admit, there were times that I became so tired and struggling to breath (a result from a weak heart beating irregularly and not having the ability to pump oxygen rich blood properly throughout my body), I would break down in tears and wished I hadn’t been “cursed” with heart disease.  But the feeling would soon pass.

A copy of Lincolns famous Gettysburg Address

I figured, if individuals, like Lincoln, could face such health crisis and still continue to live a life and impact the world around them, I figured I could do the same.  Perhaps it sounds odd, but I am actually grateful for the life I have been given, heart disease and all.  I have accepted that I will be a cardiac patient for life and from this experience I can hopefully educate, motivate and inspire others.  I figure you have two choices when you have to deal with a health crisis.  Either succumb to it and allow it take control of your life or accept your fate, deal with what it throws at you and fight hard to overcome the obstacles that it may throw your way.

Posted in Health

WHAT??? You want to stick a wire in my heart?

I wear my ICD scar proudly

“A really strong woman accepts the war she went through and is ennobled by her scars.
Carly Simon

When people first hear that I have a defibrillator implanted in my chest, it often leads to a multitude of questions.  How does it work? Can you feel it?  Does it hurt? Has it gone off?  The one thought that tends to make some people squeamish is the image of a wire being threaded down inside my heart.  They have this crude image of this massive wire, one similar to those seen in a hardware store, being shoved through my veins down into the hearts chamber.  Thank God that isn’t the case!! Through the wonderful advances in medical technology, things have the ability to do more in a smaller, more compact design.
How does a defibrillator work and what does it do for me? An Implantable Cardioverter-defibrillator (aka ICD or defibrillator for short) is a small, mechanical device that has the ability to correct a dangerous heart rhythm by providing a shock through a wire that has been threaded down inside the heart.  Have you ever seen the paddles paramedics or doctors use on a patients chest when they claim a patients heart has stopped beating or they have gone into cardiac arrest?  An ICD is the same thing, only it has the ability to provide the much needed shock to stop the irregular rhythm from the inside of the heart.  It also has the ability to act as a pacemaker, allowing it to provide tiny little electrical impulses to pace and a very fast or very slow rhythm problem.  How does this device know how to do this?  I’m not entirely sure, but the device itself has the ability to monitor when your heart goes into these dangerous rhythms and then is able to correct them.  Because my heart would go into “funny” rhythms, the defibrillator was put in place to provide that Defibrillation shock or electrical impulses  in the event that it goes into those problem rhythms.

ICD (AKA Defibrillator) implant

In my case, the defibrillator was implanted just below my left collarbone and the wire lead was threaded through a vein, down into my heart.
Can you feel it?  The device itself, in all honestly, I hardly even notice that it’s there.  At first, with any foreign object placed in the body, I did have some anxiety having this object implanted in my chest that naturally didn’t belong.  I would wake up in the middle of the night,  wanting to rip it right out of my chest, but I knew I couldn’t.  But over time, that anxiety subsided.  For the most part, the only thing you see is the scar left by the incision made to implant the device.  Without the scar, you can’t really tell that the device itself is there at all.  But if you rub the skin gently where the device is, you can feel this hard, rounded object sitting just under the skin (sounds a little creepy, I know, but you get used to it).
Does it hurt?  The device itself doesn’t hurt at all.  The shock that it will provide to my heart….thankfully I haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a full blown Defibrillator shock.  I watched as my mother experienced them with her defibrillator and the only way she could explain it, it was like getting kicked hard in the chest.  In the event the device fires as a pacemaker, you don’t really feel it much at all, except for this funny tickle going on inside your chest.
How is life differently having a device implanted?  Device checkups and doctor visits are obviously a part of my routine.  But overall, life with a defibrillator implant can essentially resume back to normal with the exception of a few things that I have to avoid (some sports and hanging around anything magnetic is off my list of things to do).  Like anything new in life….you just learn to adjust and get used to it over time.  Some patients hide their scar and hide the fact that they have a device while others, like myself, wear the scar proudly and am happy that technology has been developed to help patients in my situation.  My scar and my devices are a part of who I am…..A woman whose life that has been touched by heart disease and is working to educate others to take care of themselves!

Image borrowed from http://www.bmj.com

Just 20 years ago, a defibrillator was the size of a pack of cigarettes…imagine having that box in your chest!