Nicki Anderson: Listen to your body, especially your heart
By Nicki Anderson For The Sun February 18, 2013 3:10PM
Michele Beck, of Aurora, suffered a heart attack at 33 years old in 1994. | Submitted
Updated: March 21, 2013 6:15AM
Mother and grandmother Michele Beck, of Aurora, has had some unexpected surprises in her life. Unfortunately, a surprise that started in her 30s changed her life forever. Michele’s story reinforces that you can never be too careful when it comes to your health.
In 1993, Michele and her children were involved in a car accident. The lack of insurance by the driver who hit her, a pending divorce and pre-existing health issues left Michele emotionally and physically drained. At 33 years old, health took a back seat to the other stresses in her life.
“My high cholesterol went untreated due to my age; I was only 33 years old. My doctor thought maybe losing a bit (of) weight, quitting smoking and managing my stress would control my blood pressure and lower my cholesterol without intervention,” she says.
Because Michele was only 33, there wasn’t any follow-up. In 1994, Michele started to experience shortness of breath doing simple tasks. Additionally, doing menial tasks left her legs feeling heavy and triggered chest pains accompanied by nausea.
“I went to see the doctor, and I gave her a very general description of my symptoms. She knew about the automobile accident, so she sent me to physical therapy. When I was done with therapy, the symptoms persisted, so I went back, and she prescribed a chest X-ray and an antibiotic,” Michele said. “When I visited her for the third time, she recommended I see a therapist for anxiety. It didn’t occur to me to give her greater details nor question her diagnosis.”
Though the doctor was aware of Michele’s high blood pressure and high cholesterol, she opted not to medicate Michele, and she trusted her doctor’s decision.
On the morning of Sept. 19, 1994, Michele woke up feeling tired and nauseous. She thought she was coming down with the flu, so she left work early. Walking to her car, then from car to home left her exhausted.
“As I walked to the bathroom, it felt like an elephant came and sat in the middle of my chest,” she says. “I couldn’t breathe and the pain was severe. I thought I was going to be sick, so I went toward the toilet, and that is when my pain shot down my left arm. Finally the alarm went off in my head and somehow I managed to make it back to the kitchen to dial 911.”
By the time the paramedics arrived, Michele’s symptoms disappeared. When they came in and saw a young, petite woman, they laughed at her suggesting that perhaps she called 30 years too soon.
“They told me that women who have heart attacks are heavy women with upper body fat and at least 60 years of age,” she says.
“However, since I told the 911 operator I was having a heart attack, they were now obligated to take me to the hospital. Boy, did I feel dumb.
When she got to the hospital, an EKG came back normal.
“The doctor came in and saw me, and he explained to me that young, petite women don’t have heart attacks, and he started to talk about stress and anxiety attacks,” Michele says. “As he continued to talk, I had a heart attack.”
Michele was quickly moved to the cath lab to do an angiogram and open up a blocked artery with balloon therapy.
“For the next two days, the doctor tried to find an illegal drug in my system, because he could not and would not accept the fact that a young woman had heart disease,” she says. “On the second day, I decided to be a better advocate for myself and fired that doctor. I began to see Dr. Mark Goodwin with Midwest Heart Specialists.”
In 2003 Michelle had one stent placed in her heart, and in 2007, she had another stent. She has learned how to listen to her body, and her doctor actively listens to her concerns and takes them seriously. The team of Michelle and Dr. Goodwin has prevented another heart attack.
“In 1994, I quit smoking, and currently I run and do other cardiovascular exercise most days of the week,” she says. “I also watch what I eat and have learned to love vegetables and fruit. I have successfully lowered my bad cholesterol, raised my good cholesterol and controlled my high blood pressure. I volunteer for the American Heart Association and Go Red for Women.
In June, Michele will graduate from the Northern Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in arts in Christian ministry.
Michele’s advice is worth noting:
Listen to your body to know the signs of heart attack and disease and to seek immediate medical attention if they suspect a heart attack. Remember, for women, signs are not always typical and can be mistaken for stress or anxiety.
If you cover your gray hair with dye because you are worth it, then taking care of your heart should be an even greater priority, because you are worth it.
We are wives, mothers and grandmothers with a lot on our plates. Choose today to be victorious over heart disease and lower your risks, know your numbers and learn CPR.
For more information online, visit the American Heart Association, www.heart.org, or Go Red for Women, www.goredforwomen.org.