My big-hearted friend Henry led a "Madmen-style" life for many years, so it was natural that on American Heart Health Day 1 of 29 Heart Health Blogs, I called him.
Perhaps he or one of his former wingmen had suffered a heart attack and wanted to participate in the Yale Heart Study? He was pleased to inform me that though he had everything else -- from Type 2 diabetes to a new hip -- he was heart attack free. In fact, on March 3, Henry was celebrating a landmark birthday, months in the planning, with friends of a lifetime arriving in New York City from near and far.
I was as happy as could be for someone who still needed 1,814 heart attack survivors to participate in the non-profit, NIH-funded Yale Heart Study (click here for more info). The survey is anonymous and only requires 30-60 minutes of your time. (Downloadable materials -- like the one at left -- are available here.)
Do you know the phrase, "Not so fast, Gonzalez?" It's a reference to Warner Brothers' 1955 Academy Award-winning Looney Tunes animated cartoon star Speedy Gonzalez, the "fastest mouse in all of Mexico." Speedy's been P.C., not P.C., and then P.C. again -- he fits right into Modern Family. Well, not so fast, Gonzalez.
The most frequent reason given for not knowing heart attack survivors is that they didn't live. Heart attack is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the U.S. In the first year after a heart attack, 42 percent of women die, 24 percent of men.
A couple of weeks ago Henry began feeling out of breath and tired. Last night he sent all his friends an email:
"I went into NYU hospital today for an angiogram as a result of a checkup that I had last week with my cardiologist. I was told late this afternoon that the angiogram showed 'severe blockage' in my main heart artery and two other heart vessels. My cardiologist said, 'Cancel your party. You're going to have triple bypass surgery and a heart valve replacement on Friday -- and you're not leaving this hospital until then.'"
In between the first and last of 29 days of blogging on heart attacks, someone I knew and loved had gone from being unable to participate in a heart study to narrowly missing the "widow maker." Heart disease is that stealthy. Henry was going to be joining the Bill Clinton, David Letterman, Regis Philbin, Barbara Goldsmith, Barbara Walters Club.
A psychologist named Len Gould now runs a cardiac rehab workshop because he learned a few things when he went through bypass surgery himself 16 years ago.
"Only last night I was running a session where a man said he didn't call the ambulance because he didn't want to be embarrassed in front of his workmates! We may consider this odd, but I have been in a similar situation ... It's not only the patients who need re-education ... I often say that before a heart event every chest pain is indigestion, after a heart event, every chest pain is a major heart attack approaching, and sadly it is almost impossible to know the difference."
Today, Suzanne Haynes, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor, DHHS Office on Women's Health, emailed to acknowledge this HuffPost heart series' focus on women's heart attack symptoms. "You have saved the lives of many women!" is what she wrote.
Hyperbole, I wanted to think. But if people saw the slideshow below, maybe someone did call 9-1-1. Maybe someone did survive. Then it hit me. I had been diligently forwarding my heart blogs to Henry and his wife all month.
Maybe, subliminally, one of the blogs planted the thought that Henry's symptoms were worth a trip to the cardiologist's office. Maybe he's not having the birthday he planned, but he may be getting a present that's better than what Mother Nature had in store. Time. Happy, Happy Birthday, Henry! And many more.
On behalf of the Yale Heart Study team, thank you to the thousands of people who have made Heart Health month a success -- particularly the nearly 1,000 heart attack survivors who took the survey.
While this column is my last in this series, you're invited to continue chatting with me and the team at Yale Heart Study's Facebook page. See you there.
Photos via Getty and DHHS Office on Women's Health.
Heart attack survivors, please click here. If you haven't had a heart attack, please click and forward to someone who has had one.
Disclosure: Suzanne O'Malley is a Sr. Research Associate for the non-profit NIH-funded Yale Heart Study. Applications are open to her creative & screenwriting weekends & summer classes at Yale Writers' Conference & Yale Summer Film Institute.
For more by Suzanne O'Malley, click here.
Most heart attacks feel like there's a 1 ton weight on the center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It may even feel like heartburn or indigestion. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
Pain in the back, neck, or jaw is a more common heart attack symptom for women than it is for men. This symptom can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of stomach (not below the belly button). Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
This symptom can come on suddenly. It may occur while you are at rest or with minimal physical activity. You may struggle to breathe or try taking deep breaths. Shortness of breath may start before or at the same time as chest pain or discomfort, and can even be your only symptom. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
Unexplained or excessive sweating, or breaking out into a "cold sweat," and you know it's not menopause. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
Sudden and unusual tiredness or lack of energy is one of the most common symptoms of heart attack in women, and one of the easiest to ignore. It can come on suddenly or be present for days. More than half of women having a heart attack experience muscle tiredness or weakness that is not related to exercise. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
Unlike in the movies, most heart attacks do not make you pass out right away. Instead, you may suddenly feel dizzy or light-headed. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
Women are twice as likely as men to experience nausea, vomiting, or indigestion during their heart attack. These feelings are often written off as having a less serious cause. Remember, nausea and vomiting may be signs that something is seriously wrong, especially if you have other symptoms. Image used with permission from Women'sHealth.gov
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