While celebrating her three year old daughter’s birthday, Erin Charles got very sick. She took her five children out to eat and afterwards stopped to pick up a birthday cake.
“By the time I walked to the cashier to pay I felt pain everywhere and I couldn’t breathe. My chest felt very tight.
I walked very slowly back to the car,” she said.
Erin said her children knew immediately that something was wrong and she dialed her husband on the phone. “I knew
I had to get to the hospital so I drove out of the parking lot and got there just before I fainted,” Erin said. “My oldest daughter went inside to get help.”
At 5:10 am, Erin’s heart stopped and she coded in her room. “My heart needed to be shocked more than twice before I came back,” she said. “When I woke up, I was in the ICU. I was told I had Long QT Syndrome and doctors weren’t sure why my heart had suddenly stopped beating.
I was scared to fall asleep and the thought of closing my eyes terrified me. I missed my children and all I could think of was getting back home to them.”
Erin received a defibrillator and her life changed forever. “I was forced to learn to live differently, eat healthy, limit my exercise and learn not to be so stressed and upset about things,” Erin said.
Leedy was born and raised in Pike County, KY. She is one of nine children; many of which have passed away from heart disease.
Doris knew her family history elevated her risk, and it didn’t take long in her life for her symptoms to arise.
“I had my first heart attack in my late thirties, and a month later I had another one,” said Doris. “At that moment I knew that I needed to take better care of myself, for me and my family.”
In 2008, Doris moved to Lexington, and her heart treatments have continued here. “I have had stents and a pacemaker installed in my heart as well as an A.V. ablation procedure performed,” said Doris.
After her second round of heart issues, Doris received cardiac rehabilitation support, and although she won’t admit it publicly, she enjoyed the workouts the team put her through. Doris gives credit to her family, friends and medical professionals for the support they’ve given throughout this process.
Today Doris enjoys volunteering at her church, maintaining her vegetable garden and spending time with her grandchildren.
“I realize that making my health a priority is truly one of the best gifts that I can ever give my family,” said Doris. I urge everyone, especially women, because we tend to put ourselves last, to be your own health advocate and take care of yourself.”
As Lisa Kiko knows all too well, too much stress can take a toll on one’s body. For her, tax season had just ended which is a very stressful time for a bookkeeper/controller. In addition, she had learned that her father was not taking his Parkinson’s medications and he was deteriorating rapidly.
The combination of personal and professional stress caused Lisa to have a stress induced heart attack while leading an important business meeting.
“Thankfully, family comes in many forms,” said Lisa. “My boss rushed me to the ER and acted as my medical advocate and spent time with me every day of the five days I was hospitalized.”
Today, Lisa is much better and has a new outlook on life.
“My heart attack has made me realize that I was not living the life I wanted, merely going through the motions and getting the bills paid,” she said. “All my focus was on my job and I had few friends.”
The day she returned home from the hospital, a flyer arrived from her aunt reminding her to book the cabin on the family’s 13 acre lake. The picture of her childhood summer home brought back fond memories of family. She leaves for the lake in the Spring and couldn’t be happier.
“I’ll be near my very large extended family and my parents as well,” said Lisa.
Sam Harris lost her twin in utero at just 16 weeks. According to her mother Christy, Sam and her twin suffered from severe Twin to Twin Transfusion, (TTTS) a condition that affects the placenta of identical twins.
“I underwent a fetalscopy of the placenta of both babies to increase their survival,” Christy said. “Unfortunately within 24 hours after surgery, Sam’s twin passed away.”
Sam survived the surgery and was monitored by ultrasound on a weekly basis but at 21 weeks, physicians discovered a heart abnormality, common with TTTS because of the abnormal blood supply shared between twins through the placenta.
“Our doctor explained that Sam had a condition called pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum due to the TTTS,” Christy said. “And she would need surgery within days after her birth.”
Sam was born at 35 weeks gestation and had a heart catheter procedure at just one day old so doctors could assess her condition. At five days old Sam had open heart surgery. She came home from the hospital when she was 11 days old.
“When Sam was 18 months old, she had another heart cath procedure and surgery to close a hole in her heart,” Christy said. “A complication during this surgery caused a stroke, but after therapy, Sam completely recovered.”
“Her doctor calls her a fighter because whenever she examined her, she wiggled, kicked and screamed,” Christy said.
Family history has always been a concern for Bobbi Williams, a 39 year old wife, mother of two and an 8th grade teacher at West Jessamine Middle School.
“My dad had a heart attack and angioplasty at age 44 and a quadruple bypass at age 59,” Bobbi said. “My mom had a triple bypass at age 59 and both had high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
So when Bobbi herself was diagnosed with high blood pressure about ten years ago, she was not surprised.
“I was managed through medication and faithful doctor’s visits,” Bobbi said. “I had a stress test seven years ago and my cardiologist said to keep doing what I was doing and I would be fine for years to come.”
Bobbi started running and about two years ago, lost ten pounds and as her blood pressure decreased, she was able to come off her medication entirely.
In the summer of 2015, Bobbi and her family left for a much anticipated two week vacation to Florida. “My family was ready for some much needed time away together,” she said. But Bobbi was not feeling well as they got on the road. She attributed it to anxiety about the trip and they continued on their way.
Bobbi has hazy memories of what happened to her but her husband, Marty, said once the family left Orlando for the beach, her condition deteriorated quickly. She awoke in the night with serious chest pain and her husband called 911 and began CPR since she wasn’t breathing.
“At the hospital in Orlando, a cardiac catheter was administered and they found a blockage that caused a mild heart attack,” Bobbi said. “They placed a stent to clear the blockage and my family anxiously waited for me to wake up. Two days later I was taken off the respirator. After six days in the hospital, I was discharged and headed back to Kentucky ”
Like most of Lexington, Jenny Exterkamp spent February 18, 2015 digging out from a massive snow storm. Later that night, she awoke to a numb hand. Thinking that she slept on it funny, she paid no attention to it and went back to sleep.
When she awoke the next morning, she couldn’t feel her left leg and her speech was slurred. Jenny was having a stroke.
Jenny and her boyfriend rushed to urgent care, and she was soon transported to the emergency room. Unfortunately doctors could not administer a tPA treatment because Jenny’s symptoms had lasted longer than three hours and she had brushed them off in the middle of the night.
“After having an MRI and a CT scan it was confirmed that I had suffered a stroke on the right side of my brain,” said Jenny. “Luckily I regained the muscle control in my face but I did not regain the feeling on my left side.”
Jenny sat with her doctor and sister, who is a registered nurse, to discuss options. After consulting a vascular surgeon, Jenny learned she had fibromusclar dysplastia, a condition where a part of her artery narrows to 50%. On Jenny’s right side, her artery was 70% narrowed, and she required an angioplasty.
Today Jenny coaches volleyball at Tates Creek High School and teaches third grade at Picadome Elementary.
Last August was a busy month for Anne Morton. Though her official birthday is on April 30th and she will be 74 years old on that day, Anne is now celebrating another birthday of sorts each year, because she lived through a heart attack on August 15th.
“My husband had brain surgery on August 14th this year,” Anne said. “And I had a heart attack the next day.”
Anne had neck pain at first and said she felt the pain move into her jaw and then felt her jaw lock.
“I called my sister, Billie Jean,” Anne said. “She called paramedics and they took me to the hospital and my doctor implanted a stent. My diagnosis was acute myocardial infarction.”
According to the American Heart Association, a myocardial infarction is the damaging or death of an area of the heart muscle (myocardium) resulting from a blocked blood supply to that area – medical term for a heart attack.
“I want to thank my family and my reverend Larry Wilson of Bethel Baptist Church and my church family, as well as my doctor and everyone at rehab.” Anne said.
Marty Sell got up and went to church on February 22 just like any other Sunday.
“I got this dull ache in the middle of my chest,” Marty said. “Thinking it was just heartburn, I took some antacid.
But 20 minutes later, the heartburn didn’t go away and Marty began to feel a tingling down her left arm. Both the tingling and the heartburn are common signs women report when having heart attacks, but Marty said she just knew something was terribly wrong.
“At the end of the church service, we stood up and I told my husband he needed to take me to the hospital.”
When she arrived at the hospital, the ache continued but the tingling had gone. After several blood tests in the emergency room, Marty was admitted.
“On Monday morning, I had a heart cath.,” Marty said. “And on Tuesday morning I had double bypass surgery and they told me I had a heart attack.”
Marty feels fortunate to have fully recovered from her ordeal with no damage but wants to share her story with others to raise awareness of women’s heart attack risk and symptoms.
On March 7th of this year, Jo Bradshaw had a stroke. She had been running errands that day and said she felt fine when she returned home. “All of the sudden I felt a ‘creepy crawly’ feeling on the left side of my face,” she said. “I could see in the bathroom mirror that something wasn’t right on my face so I put a cold compress on it but it started getting worse. I looked and it was like my face was falling off my skull!”
But Jo said she knew it was a stroke because she saw it happen to her own adult nephew.
“I knew what was happening right away,” Jo said. “I had been around nursing homes and had seen people who had strokes and knew how devastating they could be.”
Jo called her best friend, Claudette, and asked if she would come over and then immediately called 911. “I knew they probably couldn’t understand me on the phone,” she said.
An ambulance got Jo to a hospital and she was given clot busting medication (also called tPA) within 40 minutes.
“After my stroke, my life changed for the better,” Jo said. “I recovered completely and I no longer sweat the small stuff. I believe God and the knowledge He gave all the people in the hospital is responsible for saving me. I am single and I don’t have children to take care of me, so I knew I had to fight for myself.”
On March 30, 2015, Linda had a heart attack. She had back pain between her shoulder blades that started the previous Saturday after doing house work, so she thought she had hurt her back. She had no other symptoms, but as the pain became worse she thought she should call her doctor for an appointment on Monday. The pain became worse Sunday night and her husband, Larry, asked her if she thought she might be having a heart attack. Linda told him she didn’t think so and now she knows how lucky she is.
“I went to see my doctor on Monday and even took my dog, Susie, since I was sure we’d be leaving that same day,” Linda said. “The nurses did an EKG and suggested I go by ambulance to the hospital for treatment. I was in extreme pain.”
Linda continued to argue with medical professionals and deny she was having a heart attack, convinced it was a back injury. “I was even reluctant to sign paperwork for the required procedure on my heart,” she said.
Eventually her cardiologist convinced her she needed a stent placed and she was hospitalized for three days. “I did not have significant damage,” Linda said. “And for that I am very thankful. I would advise anyone with symptoms of a heart attack that become worse and are not necessarily in your chest, go immediately to an emergency room and get checked out. Because of cardiac rehab, I am feeling much better, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Margee Koffler began 2015 setting out on a drive to Florida with her daughter, Reese, and her horses for the show season. While stopping for the night near Ocala at a friend’s farm, Margee, a former cardiac care nurse, began experiencing severe chest pain, shortness of breath, jaw pain, and a racing, irregular heartbeat.
“I just couldn’t believe what was happening,” Margee said. “But knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack I knew I had to act quickly.”
Margee’s daughter called 911 and her friends gave her aspirin before the ambulance arrived. She was admitted to the cardiac care unit of the local hospital and after undergoing a heart catheterization, the local cardiologists happily reported that it didn’t appear she had suffered from a heart attack. She was discharged to the care of her cardiologist in Lexington after she was stable.
Today Margee says it remains difficult for both she and her daughter to talk about that traumatic experience. “Reese was very calm during the emergency but I could see she was terrified,” Margee said. As a result, mother and daughter want women of all ages to know and learn the signs and symptoms of heart attack and other cardiac conditions and to seek help immediately if something seems wrong.
“I feel blessed and so thankful for the love and support of my family,” Margee said. “Especially my husband and my brave daughter.”
In 2005, Lexington interior designer Barbara Ricke thought she had reached the point where she had finally worked too hard.
“I was feeling tired and absolutely worn out,” Barbara said. “I thought I had just over done things and needed a long vacation.”
But during that vacation, she said she was tired, her lower jaw was hurting and she felt pain in the back of her neck.
“I noticed my skin was grey in color,”
Barbara said. “I went to get new makeup and never realized these were all signs of a heart attack.”
Barbara never had chest or arm pain – the more traditional signs of a heart attack – and returned home to Lexington and immediately had a stress test. But instead of returning to work, she had emergency heart surgery—a triple bypass.
“As an interior designer, I’m constantly under pressure from clients, contractors, builders, electricians and architects,”
Barbara said. “During a typical day, I receive multiple phone calls beginning in the early morning and going to almost midnight.”
Now ten years have passed since Barbara’s heart surgery, and she said she still can’t believe it happened to her. “After a six month recovery period, my life was back to normal,” Barbara said.
Like most busy college students, Sheri Depp hadn’t taken time to get her wisdom teeth extracted. “When I was 23 and working full time, my dentist told me I was overdue to get them out,” Sheri said.
Sheri doesn’t remember much about the procedure except for a question asked as she was being put under anesthesia about her low blood pressure. “Someone asked me if I was a runner,” she said. When she woke up in recovery, Sheri remembers asking nurses about the lack of pain she felt and it was then nurses explained that she had been unable to have surgery.
“I had gone into heart failure,” Sheri said. “They had been trying desperately to save my life in the emergency room and I couldn’t believe it until I saw the serious expressions on their faces.”
Over the next several days, Sheri came close to death several times and found herself in a hospital in Louisville awaiting a heart transplant. Doctors were unsure what had triggered her heart failure but while she was waiting for a donor heart to become available, a miracle happened.
“My own heart started to recover,” Sheri said. “I returned to Lexington and was in the hospital a few more weeks. It took me a long time to get my strength back and I was afraid to go to sleep because if my heart stopped, no one would know. My friends and family took very good care of me and without them, especially my mother, I would have been lost.”
Today Sheri considers her life to be a true miracle. “About 15 years ago I took part in a study and they found no permanent damage to my heart,” she said. “Today I am very active and focused on my health. I work at being a great wife to my husband Dwayne and stepmom to my son.”
Stress takes a toll on the body in many ways and for Danetta Martin, stress almost took a deadly turn earlier this year.
July 30th of this year started out a normal work day,” Danetta said. “But it suddenly took a devastating turn for me and my family.”
Danetta’s mother had passed away and still grieving that loss, Danetta was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or “broken heart syndrome.” This disease causes the heart muscle to weaken temporarily.
“Fortunately, I work in a cardiac setting and I was rushed to an emergency room for treatment,” Danetta said. “I am so thankful to my co-workers and everyone there with me on that life-changing day. While grieving the loss of my mother, my family remained by my side concerned for my well-being.”
Danetta was on medical leave for six weeks and was placed on several medications that would help her heart grow stronger. “Thankfully this condition is completely reversible and I was eventually able to return to work,” she said. “I have made a few lifestyle changes and I try to focus on living a healthier life, including eating better an exercising two to three times a week.”
Approximately one out of every 110 babies is born with a congenital heart defect. Catherine Bennett is one of those babies.
Born on November 12, 2012, Catherine was five weeks premature and had several holes in her heart. “Catherine was in and out of congestive heart failure throughout her first year of life,” said her mother, Laura Bennett. “And her heart conditions were managed by several different medications.”
Under the care of her doctor, Catherine was able to avoid surgery until just before her second birthday. She eventually underwent open heart surgery to repair her leaky tricuspid valve and patch her VSD on October 17, 2014.
“Now it’s hard to believe Catherine was ever considered “failure to thrive,” said Laura. “She is a rambunctious, active three-year old.”
Laura said she and her family are so thankful to the American Heart Association for its support of heart research and with congenital heart defects being the number one birth defect, research dollars are vital.