I am a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister. I was a healthy 33-year-old with no signs of any health concerns; I thought nothing would ever happen to me, but I was wrong.
But even after I was plagued by heart palpitations, prickly pains in my chest and shortness of breath for months on end, I waited to see a doctor until after a high school friend died suddenly from a heart attack. That was my wakeup call because I immediately thought the same thing could happen to me.
It took a visit to three doctors before I received an accurate diagnosis: A rare condition in which there is an abnormality to a coronary artery caused my bothersome symptoms over the preceding months. At that point, I felt doctors may as well have told me that my life was over, because the only option that I had for survival was bypass surgery.
In an instant, I saw my whole life flash before my eyes. I kept thinking of my three young children growing up without a mother. I cried the entire way home from the doctor's office. I just didn't realize it could be something so serious.
After my successful surgery, I gained a new perspective of life because surviving the surgery and then going through cardiac rehab was a life-changing experience for me and my family. You really learn to not take things for granted when you have such a hard time doing the smallest things like walking, brushing your teeth or opening a window. This is something that could happen to you and anyone in your family.
Five years later, and after overcoming the mental hurdles that often come with being a heart disease survivor, I am more accepting of what happened to me. Instead of focusing on what I might do wrong, I now focus on what is right about my life post heart disease.
I'm eating better than ever and exercising again. I've made changes to my lifestyle that will benefit my entire family.
I'm more open to telling my story, hoping that it will help other women.
I now, proudly show people my surgery scar and tell them it's my beauty mark because this experience has taught me so many things about my life.
It sounds crazy, but if I could go back and change what happened to me, I wouldn't.
A great lesson that I've learned through this life-changing experience: the importance of listening to your instincts and seeking another opinion if things don't feel right. I could've easily died if I hadn't pushed for another opinion and more tests, I always tell people that no one knows you better than you!
Always keep in mind that heart disease does not discriminate. It is the number one killer in America, affecting more women than men, and it's more deadly to women than all forms of cancer combined. According to the American Heart Association, "Heart disease cause 1 in 3 women's deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute. Approximately 43 million women in the U.S. are affected by heart disease." Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart diseases. In addition, the AHA notes, "Among Hispanic women, only 1 in 3 are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer ... Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women."
As a survivor, I Go Red For Women. For 10 years, women have fought heart disease individually and together with the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women movement. More than 627,000 women's lives have been saved by helping them understand how heart disease can be prevented, but the fight is far from over.
As part of my commitment to Go Red For Women, I've walked the in the AHA's Heart Walk to raise money for research, education and advocacy programs. Together with my other heart sisters, I share my story with others to help save lives, share our experiences and encourage each other and women everywhere to live a healthier life.
Join us in the fight against heart disease! Make healthy behavior changes in your life and your family's. Eat healthy, stay physically active by increasing your exercise, make sure to do your routine medical exams such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, and talk to your doctor about developing a heart health plan, and ask him/her to help you recognize heart disease symptoms so you can take immediate action if any symptoms appear.
February is American Heart Month, become part of the Go Red For Women movement and show your support by wearing red to build awareness and inspire action. Learn more about the movement by visiting GoRedForWomen.org or GoRedCorazon.org to learn more. You can also visit our Facebook page.
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