Alexia’s Personal Story with Heart Disease

Alexia’s Personal Story with Heart Disease


So, hey everybody. Alexia Lewis RD here with N.E.W. Motivation Coaching doing a Facebook live tonight for Heart Health month talking about my personal experience with heart disease. Give me a second to jump on my page real quick because I want to be able to take your questions and see your comments if you have any. So
I want to make sure this is broadcasting. Give me a second just to load that
and it looks like we’re going so awesome. Thank you for joining me tonight. This is
the first of three Facebook Lives I’m going to do in February for heart health
month. The reason I’m doing this and that it’s so important to me is because
I am a heart attack survivor and so tonight I’m going to tell you my story,
my experience with heart disease as a survivor of a heart attack. I’m also because now I’m a dietitian and health coach and going to expand on that in future videos and tell you a little bit about how to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. So tonight my story, the symptoms of a heart attack – what’s more common in men and women – and the risk factors for a heart attack. Next
Thursday night at 7:00 I will be going over lifestyle factors that you can change because you can’t change them all. That’s exercise, stress management, and the importance of social support. Then the last Thursday in February I’m
going to talk the whole time about nutrition. Those of you who know me know that I could talk forever about nutrition for heart health. Join me for that one the last Thursday. They will all be at 7 pm. Alright, my story. So I had a heart attack at the age of 38 back in 2007 so I’m kind of giving away
my age with that; but I did. I was only 38 years old and thought “there’s no way
that I could have a heart attack” and I always laughed when people say “all of a
sudden” I had these symptoms and well, of course, all of a sudden. It doesn’t usually let you know it’s coming. It just comes on so I completely did not
expect it to happen. For me personally I was… and let me
just make sure I’m not getting any comments here. Alright looks good as
far as I can tell. If there are comments and I missed them, I will address them
later I promise. So I was 38 years old. I went… it was
after Thanksgiving. It was a Friday afternoon. I had just come back from spending Thanksgiving with my family a few hours south here in Florida. I
was going to the movies with a friend that day and going to see No Country for
Old Men. Huge fan of Coen Brothers movies and very excited to see it. So I get to
the theater and meet my friend and go inside and we sit down and everything is
normal as usual and just as the movie started I had a chest pain. So when I say
chest pain, it feels different to different people. To me it felt like really, really severe like heartburn, indigestion. It was just tight and pressure and just everything was tightened up in the upper part of my chest. The other thing I noticed was that I was sweating in a movie theater. I’m a
girl, we don’t sweat in movie theaters. We freeze in movie theaters. So, I’m sitting there, feeling what I think is the most intense heartburn I’ve ever had, sweating in a movie theater and my arm,
left arm, went completely limp. They say the arm goes numb. The way I
describe it is it literally felt like dead weight. Like it was just meat hanging from my shoulder joint. I would put it up on the armrest and that was too much effort. It just wanted to fall to the floor. So, those were my symptoms. I had the typical chest pain, arm deadness, limpness, and I broke into a
sweat. So I’m sitting there – and… I should say that back in the 1990’s when we used to wear leotards and leg warmers and teach group fitness classes, I was an aerobics instructor and because of that I had been CPR trained multiple times in my life. So, I was sitting there having these symptoms and realizing rationally that these are the symptoms of a heart
attack. However something prevented me from
taking any action. I can’t really to this day explain the reason that I didn’t
take action in that moment. Denial? Absolutely. This can’t be happening to me. It must be something else. The one thing I did – there’s two things I did in my favor this whole throughout this whole experience – one is I didn’t isolate
myself. I had recently come back from a work conference where someone in our
group had had a heart attack in the dining area at our big dinner
and we were all talking, my colleagues and I, about how fortunate she was to be
there instead of alone in her room. And that really hit me at that moment and I thought I’m gonna get up and go to the bathroom and collect myself because
I don’t know what’s going on right now. Something’s wrong. And I decided, no, I’m going to stay in the theater because if I fall out I don’t need to be alone in the bathroom. So that’s something I – one thing I did that was smart. So as I’m sitting there and I’m feeling these symptoms and the movie is starting, I’m just ignoring it and focusing on the move. And it comes and goes throughout the theater – throughout the movie. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen No Country for Old Men but there are a couple of scenes in that movie where they are looking out the front window of a car as it’s driving and so the camera kind of does this pan of the landscape and I remember thinking how dizzying and disorienting that was when that would happen. I couldn’t look at the movie screen
because it disoriented me too much and that was really odd as well. So anyway,
the movie ends. I haven’t fallen out. I think okay, whatever that was it’s passed,
I’m okay, went about my day actually went grabbed a bite to eat, went home. Remember this was a Friday night. So what did I do? Nothing. Nothing all weekend and I kept having symptoms. So throughout the weekend, for example, when I was vacuuming one day my apartment, I remember vacuuming and being like whoo, I’m exhausted. I need to sit down for a minute. Just from vacuuming. So I got very fatigued very easily but still I didn’t do anything. So Monday comes around and I’m still having on-and-off kind fatigue and weird feelings. I don’t want to go to the ER and wait because that’s gonna take forever. But I’m thinking, this isn’t going away so I call so my insurance line’s nurse and try to convince them to get me an immediate appointment with a cardiologist. My negotiating skills were not that good so they said no you need to go to the ER. I still wasn’t going to go. I called one of my friends and was speaking to him about it. We had recently lost a very good friend of ours suddenly who was my age and she died from a brain aneurysm one night and this was still was in the past
year – probably six to seven months ago. So that was still very strong emotionally for me and my friend I was speaking to was her boyfriend at the time and something in his voice when I was explaining to him what was going on with me I heard how devastated he would be to lose somebody else in his life. Excuse me, and and that is what finally inspired me to take action. So James if you see this, thank you for that and I’ve said that to you. So I went to the ER and remember I presented not like someone who would have a heart attack. I don’t have the risk factors which I’ll go over and I remember ask them asking me: Am I sure I don’t do meth or crack? And I was like, yeah, I’m pretty sure I don’t do meth or crack so that’s not it. But they ran some tests and they told me that that I had a heart attack. They also told me that if I had not come in when I did they wouldn’t have known because when you have a heart attack there are certain enzymes that are released in your body and over time those are reabsorbed and it’s about three days and I had waited three days. So, they barely caught the markers as I understand it – I’m not a medical person – barely caught the markers that I had a heart attack. So, they rushed me… well, I joke they don’t RUSH you around much in the hospital – I was stable at that time. They moved me upstairs and the next day I had a cardiac cath where they, actually at that point in time they were still cutting a little nick in your femoral artery, so right in your hip crease and threading a cath up to your heart and that was a very surreal experience. Also very cold experience. Ask for a warmer if you’re ever in that situation. They found out that I did have a blockage. I had a 98% blockage in a ramus artery which is a collateral artery. Not everybody has a ramus artery. My understanding is about 20% of the population does so it was not one of the major arteries of the heart, which was great news. Very lucky. Which reminds me. The second thing I did smart that weekend before I went in and I forgot to tell you I took some aspirin so I don’t know if that helped or not but that was something I’m like “oh that was a good decision” in retrospect. So anyway, they tell me I have a 98 percent blockage in my ramus. I got one stent in my heart and was released from the hospital the next day. And then you have to deal with it. Right? Then you have to face: I am 38 years old and I just had a heart attack. Mine was not severe; but it is kind of staring your mortality in the face and that was a very hard thing to deal with. So in recovery, I was exhausted the first few days… don’t drive… don’t lift anything heavier than like a half a gallon of milk. You’re very limited in your activity and thankfully I had friends and family, my mom came and helped me as well. I was really just exhausted. I think the second day I walked down my driveway to the mailbox which maybe was 30 steps back to the house, ha, needed a nap. That was too much exertion. Finally took a shower and, again, exhausted; standing up and showering took all of the energy that I could muster just to get through that. So, that’s how exhausting physically the process was. There was also a lot of fear at that point because all of a sudden you just kind of wonder if you can trust your body anymore. So every time I’d have what I called a “chest pang” which was just a little twinge I would panic – oh my god, it’s happening again. I did actually go back to the ER once because of those weird feelings in my heart area which is not where you would feel it by the way. And they told me I was fine, just anxiety, and just it’s okay. The other thing that a lot of people don’t talk about in recovery is depression and the depression that comes from having gone through such a traumatic event and that was very hard for me because there were not a lot of people around my age that had a heart attack that I could talk to and I searched online and I went to the websites and I tried to find people who had a similar experience so that I could just get some reassurance, you know? Just know that I wasn’t alone in what I was experiencing and that was very difficult. and there’s two things that pulled me out of the depression that I was having post-heart attack. One was cardiac rehab. I cannot say enough good things about my cardiac rehab team at UF Shands Jax – whatever they call it these days UF Health – Ken and Myra, and Laurie, they were amazing. And the people that I met there were so
reassuring because they were all going through some version of what I had just gone through so that support was instrumental in helping me get through my depression and I highly recommend cardiac rehab for anyone who has any type of cardiac event. The other thing that pulled me out of my depression was just a realization that you know, life goes on and I was sitting – I remember very clearly sitting outside on my front step feeling very sorry for myself and very down and I took a breath and I just leaned back and it was a beautiful sunny day and I just started absorbing the warmth of the sun and feeling it fueled my soul and it made me remember that there was some good still to be had in life and that helped me to move on. So that’s my story with heart disease. Thankfully I have not had any issues since then – knock on wood – and I changed my career I loved my job but changed my career to become a nutritionist and a health coach partially to keep myself honest I will not lie to you and partially to help others because I felt so alone going through that and I wanted to try to support others who might be going through something similar and I chose to do that with food. So okay that is my story. I am not seeing at this point any comments but I don’t know that everything is working the way it should be on my computer screen so I apologize. I’ll address anything at the end. Let’s go through the symptoms right quick because I’ve been talking long enough. Symptoms of a heart attack: chest discomfort that is for men and for women. It’s a pressure, a squeezing, a fullness, pain; it lasts more than a few minutes or in my case, it comes and goes as well. Other things that our symptoms can be: neck, jaw, back, stomach, and arm
discomfort so any pain and discomfort in this region. Back and jaw pain is more common in women than in men so if you have jaw pain or back pain and you’re female that may be a symptom of a heart attack. Shortness of breath also is more likely in women. The cold sweat. I don’t know if my sweat was cold but I definitely broke out in a sweat in a place that I wouldn’t usually. Nausea and vomiting is another symptom of a heart attack – again more likely in women than men. I did not have that symptom. Feeling light-headed, absolutely. And if you’re having any of these symptoms and I know that it’s difficult to tell because who in this society right now doesn’t have back pain and jaw pain and fatigue? But if you even think there’s a remote possibility these are symptoms, do not do what I did. Call 9-1-1. There’s a saying and that saying is “time is muscle” and the longer you wait the more heart muscle you can lose and you really need that heart muscle to be working. So those are the symptoms. Risk factors. There’s some you can’t change. So obviously we can’t change our age, we can’t change our gender – in terms of our risk factor for heart disease – males are more at risk than females. That that tends to even out as females go through menopause because estrogen is kind of protective. Genes and heredity, ethnicity can play a role as well because some ethnicities are more likely to have other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes that increase heart disease risk. And if you have parents who have heart disease that also increases your risk. So what can you change? Well, if you’re a smoker you can stop smoking and I will admit to having been a smoker for a long time and I quit the day I had a heart attack. Ten years ago. Haven’t touched a cigarette since. so smoking is a risk factor you are in control of. Your cholesterol. You’re in control of those numbers to some degree. Some of it is hereditary; but you can work to lower your LDL and triglycerides and bring the HDL up. Your blood pressure is a risk factor so working to lower your blood pressure can help. Physical inactivity is a risk factor and we have that a lot these days because we’re fairly sedentary. So increasing your activity can be helpful. One of my mantras post-heart attack on the days I didn’t feel like I had it, I just said “20 minutes for my heart; all I’ve got to do is 20 minutes of activity for my heart” and that would get me going. Diabetes increases your risk for heart disease. Now you can’t cure diabetes; but if you do manage your blood sugar that can reduce your risk some but diabetes itself – having the condition – does increase your risk. Overweight and obesity increases risk and I struggle with this one because I’m a believer in being healthy at many different sizes but if you do carry your weight around your midsection, it crowds all your organs up in that area and so carrying your weight in the middle can increase your risk of heart disease. And mental health. You know there are things that can increase your risk for heart disease like chronic stress, depression, and anxiety and we see associations. So being depressed may not lead to having a heart attack; but some of the things you do to manage these emotional states can increase your risk. If you’re turning to food. If you’re turning to cigarettes. If you’re turning to a day on the couch instead of being active. Those things can increase your risk. So going forward, we’re going to be talking to you in the next two videos about how to work on those risk factors that you can change. I hope you will join me for the next Facebook live next Thursday night this February, whatever that is, but the Thursday nights in February at 7 p.m. I’ll be coming to you and I would love to see you here and have questions and next time I promise, I’ll get it set up in a way that I can see your questions. So thank you for watching. Take care of yourself.