Mending A Broken Heart

Posted by Audrey Kunin, MD There have been 0 comments

Mending a Broken Heart


The first Friday in February is National Wear Red Day. On February 7, join The Heart Truth® and wear red! Help promote the Red Dress as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness, and invite your community to get involved, too.

National Wear Red Day has special meaning to me because I just celebrated my 10th anniversary of being a heart attack survivor.

It may come as a shock to most of you, but at the end of December 2002, I suffered a minor heart attack. I was very lucky. I'm doing fine, there was no permanent heart muscle damage, and I'm actually back to work and feel great. But free of the commonly known risk factors, I find myself a member of a peculiar new sisterhood I'd never imagined I'd ever join.

Myth #1: Men Have Heart Attacks, Not Women

True, men are far more likely to have a heart attack, at least until a woman goes through menopause. Women between the ages of 25 and 55 are not free of heart disease concerns, however. We actually fall into what the American Heart Association calls their "silent epidemic". Not commonly known is this group, supposedly free of heart disease concerns is experiencing an ever-increasing rate of heart attack. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in America. But even before going through our "change of life", heart disease kills twice the number of women than breast cancer.

A "Heartwarming" Experience

As they say, each of us has a story to tell, so here is mine.

My heart attack occurred on a Sunday morning in December while at the grocery store. Stopping in to pick up a few last minute things before my family was to leave on a vacation the next day, I was suddenly overwhelmed by an overwhelming burning sensation radiating from my upper mid chest straight through to my back.

Yes, I’m a doctor, but the thought that I was experiencing a heart attack never entered my mind. I was young (43), healthy, had normal blood pressure, was at my ideal weight, physically fit and had never smoked a day in my life. In fact, I’d had a full physical and EKG just 3 months earlier.

Certainly I was aware women often experience "atypical pain" like jaw pain or nausea, but burning? I kept thinking it was all the Advil I'd popped the previous week for a cold. Trying to ignore my discomfort, I continue to shop clutching my chest (thinking this must be one awful case of heartburn) until I reach the dairy aisle. At that point I begin contemplating downing a container of sour cream thinking that it might be soothing. As my mind races through a lengthy list of potential diagnoses (none of which include a heart attack), the pain leaves as swiftly as it began. Somewhat annoyed but incredibly relieved, I continue on with my errands.

It wasn't until I developed left arm pain after leaving a shoe store that I began to wonder if things weren't going quite as well as I'd thought. My conflict was that of both a wife/mother and that of a physician. Is this pain psychosomatic? Is the fact that I’m now even considering the unlikely possibility that I may be having a heart attack only exaggerating the symptoms? I begin to play out the scenario in my heard. Do I go to the hospital where they will surely admit me? I know exactly how long it will take for the inevitable heart attack workup which means we will miss the trip, only to learn I am perfectly fine or do I head home? I chose to drive home. By the time I got to the end of my street, the classic crushing pain and shortness of breath began.

I was lucky. My husband was at home. He took me immediately to the hospital where I was quickly evaluated and it was found I had a blockage in one of my coronary arteries. It turned out to be a freak incident caused by a blood clot. The doctors were able to perform angioplasty and place a stent. After a few nights in the ICU, a week in the hospital, cardiac rehab and lots of love and attention I am 100% recovered.

I am very fortunate. Things could have been worse. We were supposed to leave the next morning for a holiday vacation. I could have experienced this episode on the airplane or waited even longer to get myself to the hospital.

I'm literally living proof that you can not only survive, but thrive with heart disease. I have gone on to raise two incredible children, launch DERMAdoctor and written and published my book, The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual since having had my heart attack. And I've been able to work to create our own heart disease educational initiative, having partnered with The Heart Truth Campaign.

Always remember this: your best chances for a full recovery are to get into a hospital cath lab for cardiac evaluation within 2 hours of the onset of the first symptoms. If you think you're having a heart attack, don't try to rationalize it away, like I tried to do. Take an aspirin if you have one (this helps prevent further blood clotting) and get yourself to a hospital or dial 9-1-1.

Remember, heart disease is the number one killer of women. But it doesn't have to be. By learning more about heart disease, women can make a difference. I feel very strongly that I have been given a chance to help spread this message. DERMAdoctor is now an official Heart Truth partner and I am an official spokesperson for the campaign. Through this partnership I feel very fortunate to be able to share my personal story and hopefully educate women about the importance of living a heart healthy lifestyle.

Audrey Kunin, M.D.

This content is sponsored by DERMAdoctor. The author receives compensation for its creation. All content is the legal copyright of DERMAdoctor, Inc, and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without written consent.

The information provided is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to provide medical, legal or other professional advice.

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