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!


Posted in Health

Living life with a big heart

On more than one occasion, I have been asked different questions about my heart condition.  Some may find this constant questioning rather annoying, but I look at it as an opportunity to teach others about the heart, from what I have learned, so that they can truly understand what it is I deal with as well as an opportunity to open their eyes to the necessity of understanding their own body and learning how to be cautious and not ignore potential heart problems they may experience or may encounter in the future themselves.

Unfortunately, when I say living with a big heart, being generous, caring, and giving isn’t what I am referring to.  I’m actually referring to literal terms in that I literally have a big heart, as in my physical heart is larger than it is supposed to be.

If you checked out my “About Me” page, you would have read that in 2008, I was diagnosed as having Dilated Cardiomyopathy with Ventricular Ectopy.  What the heck is that? you may ask.  This essentially means that my heart is enlarged and it experiences irregular heartbeats.

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

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which the heart is enlarged and is unable to pump properly.  This has caused my left ventricle to become very large and stretched out.  As with anything that is stretched beyond its capacity, over time it becomes very weak.  A weak heart that doesn’t pump efficiently is unable to circulate oxygen rich blood throughout the body.  And as we all know, the other organs in our body depend on the circulation of blood in order to function properly.  Without that circulation of blood, the other organs will begin to fail.

The term Ventricular Ectopy essentially means that the ventricle is experiencing extra heart beats.  Because of these extra beats, the hearts normal electrical rhythm is thrown off, causing the heart to pump irregularly.  In some cases, you can feel an irregular heartbeat as a flutter or pounding heartbeat.  As we all know, if an engine is misfiring, it isn’t going to start and the car is not going to run.  Same goes for the heart; if the hearts natural electrical rhythm is out of whack, the heart itself and ultimately our bodies aren’t going to function properly.  In my case, the types of irregular heartbeats I experience are known as Premature ventricular contractions (PVC’s). Although occasional PVC’s in individuals is common (too much caffeine, drug use or heighten anxiety can cause an extra beat), too many PVC’s and the continued irregular pumping, however, will cause problems for the heart as it won’t be able to pump the blood efficiently.

To deal with both of these issues, I have been placed on multiple medications as well as being equipped with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) (I’ll get into that on my next post).  I am now, just like my mother and other family members, a cardiac patient for life.  Whereas most individuals visit their family doctors once a year for a checkup and occasionally when they are sick, I have added multiple trips to the Heart Failure Clinic, Cardiologist, and the Cardiac Device Center to my list of things to do.  At times, constant running to doctors offices and hospitals gets tiresome; but it is those times that I remind myself that working with the doctors to keep me on the mend in much better than the alternative.

Posted in Family

We can’t help what we inherit, Part Two

Mom and I, circa 1980

It was the summer of 1995.  I was just shy of 16 years old, and naturally, looking forward to hanging out with friends, learning to drive and having fun.  My brother was only 14.  Little did we know that one hot summer day, our lives were about to change…

My mother was a stay at home mom.  A rather quiet and very shy woman, she kept to herself.  If she wasn’t home obsessively cleaning the house, she could be found at the mall window shopping or eating out at the local restaurants around town.

It was a Saturday,  an extremely hot and humid summer day…one that would leave anyone feeling exhausted and having no energy.  We had made plans to go shopping with mom, but because of her ill state, we ended up staying home, making plans to go the following day with dad.  We figured it was the heat that was making her sick.  That next day came and mom still wasn’t feeling well.  It was still relatively warm outdoors, but not nearly as warm as the day before. It seemed as though mom was still having a hard time dealing with the heat, sweating profusely and feeling completely drained.  She was grey in color and if you touched her skin, it was ice cold.  Obviously, something was wrong.  Off to the hospital mom and dad went to soon find out that mom would end up becoming a life long cardiac patient.

…To put it in terms that others would understand, mom’s heart was enlarged and very damaged.  She was immediately placed on the list for a heart transplant and for ten years, she lived and dealt with a heart condition that progressively got worse, leaving her to slowly weaken.  Countless doctors appointments and hospital visits and a multitude of different medications and diet changes became the lifestyle she had to deal with.  By March 2004, she had received a heart but unfortunately passed a month later, just days before her 47th birthday.

By the time the children of my mom, aunt, and uncle were growing up, I think the family began to realize there was a serious problem that ran in the genes of our family.  Of the 7 children born between them, 4 of us would encounter our own heart problems; some at birth, others as young adults.   While we could be upset with the hand we were dealt, having to deal with life long health problems, we all have remained optimistic and strong, continuing to wear a smile on our faces.  We also learned the importance of knowing our families health history in hopes to catch any potential health crisis that may come our ways.

Grandma in the early 50’s

It was 2007 and grandma was in her early 70’s when she finally passed away.  She had lived a relatively long life and had faced the heart break of loosing not only her husband but both of her daughters as well.  Her grandchildren were becoming riddled with heart problems and although she never showed it, this bothered her terribly.  But she remained strong and accepted that perhaps it was all God’s plan.  She was an extremely strong willed and very outspoken woman who managed being a single mother raising three children on her own.  She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren – they were her life.  She finally suffered a massive heart attack that took her life….but perhaps as heart broken those of us were when it happened, it was simply her time to be with her maker and with the rest of her family that were no longer with us.  There was one prayer that she had hanging up on the walls in her apartment…the serenity prayer…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Perhaps God gave her the will to be strong and so accepting for all of those years; she had learned to accept what was happening with her family rather than asking the question “Why?”.  Perhaps her faith in God and her family was what gave her the will to live the life she lived.

Posted in Family

We can’t help what we inherit, Part One

It wasn’t until heart problems started to hit family members in my generation that we realized that there may be some correlation to what my grandfathers’ generation, my mothers’ generation, and now my generation were facing.  Before I could understand my own heart disease, I had to look back at the heart diseases others in the family had faced.  Soon, I would eventually discover more about myself in the process.

Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day

Unfortunately, I know only few facts of my grandfather.  He was born in 1922 in the state of New York.  He was a tall, thin young man who had worked as a hard laborer at the local GM plant to support his family.  He was a relatively quiet man who also enjoyed playing the organ at church.  He married my grandmother when she was only 18; he was 11 years her senior.  They lived a very modest life, in a small home and eventually had three children; my Mom, my Aunt Sandy, and my Uncle Tom.  In 1971, At age 48, he passed away suddenly, having no known prior illnesses.  From what details I’ve gathered, Cardiac Arrhythmia’s (whether his heart was beating too fast or too slow, we don’t know) lead to his heart attack and ultimately his death.  He left behind a young wife, my grandmother, who would have to find the will and the way to support her three young children.

Ten years had passed since his death.  My Aunt Sandy, along with my Mom, were young women now with young children of their own, and my grandmother was raising my Uncle, a young and budding teenager.  Grandma had managed to raise her children by herself, with many struggles I am sure, but she did it – “…without the need for help of a husband.” she would later on in life go on to say.

My Mom and Aunt Sandy as children

It was May 1981 when suddenly another tragedy would hit and this time it was Aunt Sandy.  Aunt Sandy was an outgoing young woman who enjoyed attending church and participating in all sorts of events.  She wasn’t all too shy and she enjoyed being goofy and fun.  Grandma would always tell me how much I reminded her of Aunt Sandy – – – I think we would have gotten along great!  She had just had a baby boy, my cousin Jason, who was not even a year old yet. Apparently, while walking across the street in town, she suddenly collapsed.  Again, another member of the family had been struck dead due to issues with the heart.  She was otherwise a healthy, young woman who passed suddenly at the age of 21, leaving behind her son to be cared for by his father.

Would the tragedies end there?