As Fran began the long walk to work from the parking lot that morning she knew that she felt unwell. But once inside, the feeling subsided so she continued to the classroom at Conestoga where she teaches. She was sweating when she entered the room and was quickly overwhelmed by the feeling of being over heated. It only took a few seconds of unbearable, stabbing pain behind her shoulder blade for Fran to realize what was happening; she was having a heart attack.
She excused herself from the classroom and headed down the back stairway towards the health unit to seek medical attention. “I made it as far as the first landing before collapsing to the ground,” Fran recalls.
Fortunately for Fran, three of her students followed her out of the classroom that day. “I was scared but apparently, according to my students, I remained ‘freakishly calm’,” she laughs., “I recognized the signs of a heart attack and directed one student to call 911, one to go and get two aspirin from the campus health unit and one to go and get my health card from my purse.” The campus physician and paramedics arrived within minutes and she was quickly transported to St. Mary’s.
The 60-year-old communications professor didn’t think she fit the profile for heart disease. “I was relatively healthy, social, active, and a woman. My only complaint was a bit of heartburn. I thought, “I can’t be having a heart attack!” But Fran worked long, hard hours both personally and professionally. The years of stress and work overload, combined with an unidentified family history of heart disease, finally took their toll.
The events that followed the ambulance ride to St. Mary’s were a blur for Fran. She wasn’t awake for her angiogram, or for the triple by-pass surgery that followed. One thing she does recognize undoubtedly about that difficult day in January was “Had I not been so close to cardiac services, I wouldn’t have survived.”
“A few months into recovery, during a follow up visit with my cardiologist, my husband urged me to mention the tightness in my chest that I had been experiencing,” states Fran. “I just attributed it to recovery.” But the follow up angiogram revealed what her cardiologist had suspected – that tightness was angina. Tests determined that all three by-passes were blocked. Deemed too “at-risk” for another bypass, Fran underwent the only other option available to her – a single stent.
“Now I feel so much better,” grins Fran, “I recognize, in hind’s sight, that I tend to take on too much. My cardiac incident revealed to me that those deadlines I thought that only I could meet, were met by others. The workload I thought I had to carry, was completed by others. It has taught me to bring more balance to my life – to cultivate a play ethic as well as a work ethic.”
“I also recognize how little I knew about my family health history,” says Fran. “It wasn’t until my event that my cousins reached out to me to share their own challenges with diabetes and heart disease. Now I am able to pass along that information to my sons so that they can provide their own doctors with more accurate information.”
After a year of recovery, Fran returned to work part time with a new approach. She engages in stress relieving activities like yoga, maintains a low salt and added vegetable diet and has actively engaged in the Cardiac Rehabilitation program through St. Mary’s.
She is also back in action with a message for other women. “Heart disease affects people of all ages and, as a woman, it can happen to you. In fact, women are more likely to die from heart disease than any other disease.” She is urging women to pay attention to the warning signs and learn the lesser known signs of a heart attack, such as pain in your neck or jaw, fatigue, cold sweats, shortness of breath or heart burn.
This Friday June 9, 2017, join Fran as we celebrate Red Day, a day to spread the message about the importance of women’s heart health. Wear Red in support of St. Mary’s and the women you love.