In honor of DWN’s participation in the American Heart Association Heart Walk this fall, Aileen K. Johnson is sharing her personal story of heart attack and recovery in a two-part series to emphasize the importance to women’s heart health. If you haven’t read Part 1, learn how Aileen’s story of suffering back-to-back heart attacks started.
After my first heart attack, the care team at the hospital adjusted my doses of heparin, a blood thinner, and put me on a new treatment, TPA. Once Dr. Greene released me to the cardiac unit he instructed the station nurses to take great care of me. Each and every one of them was an angel. Once I got settled in, seven nurses surrounded my bed and told me that Dr. Greene had never come to the cardiac floor to see about patients once he released them from emergency care. Despite that, Dr. Greene had been on the floor three times since my arrival. I later realized he wanted to be sure the TPA treatment was successful.
My parents and relatives were called and I dozed off to find 20 people surrounding my bed when I opened my eyes. After they left the appointed cardiac surgeon came to see me. With no conversation with me and after reading my charts, he told one of the special nurses (Candy) to remove me from the heparin. Candy in diplomatically suggested I be weaned from the medicine but not removed completely. The doctor replied, “This is the reason I am the doctor and you are the nurse.” I noticed Candy was not too pleased with his reply and she told me after the doctor left, “I will check on you every half hour and give you an EKG each time. If you feel any different from what you do right now, let me know immediately.”
At 3 a.m. on Oct. 5, 1997, I was awakened by the worst pain I’d ever experienced. It felt like some heavy-handed person was giving my heart a very strong handshake and not letting it go. I rang the bell for Candy and a candy-striper came in. I told her I needed to use the toilet that was by my bed but needed help to do so. When I finished, I asked her to get me a washcloth to wash my hands and in the same breath I said I was experiencing a heart-attack and needed Candy immediately. She stated I wasn’t having a heart attack and stated giving another patient a sponge bath. I told her to get Candy there immediately. She left in a huff but three minutes later Candy came in. She asked me on a scale of 1 to 10 how bad the pain was as she walked to the EKG machine. I said, “Nine and a half, and I can’t take it if it gets any worse.” She said she would shoot me with morphine and that would ease the pain. She looked at the EKG reading and began to run out the room. I cried for her to return to tell me what was happening. She said I was having a massive heart attack and I would be OK but I had to have immediate surgery.
Candy had called the emergency room surgeon, scheduled a helicopter flight for a cardiologist from a nearby state, contacted my then husband, and fired the candy striper in the three minutes it took her to come in and give me the morphine shot. The emergency room surgeon came in and read my EKG and hit the ceiling. She began to yell at Candy because what she saw indicated the morphine should have been given to me by IV, not a shot in the hip. Before I knew it, the cardiologist arrived. The doctor was a very handsome man in an Armani suit and Gucci shoes. I could not stop smiling at him. The morphine had me floating so much my heart could have been cut out and fed to me and I would not have cared. I was flown, with Candy, to the doctor’s hospital, where I received an angioplasty and a stent to open up my 97-percent clogged artery.
To this day, I am a cardiac patient of Rush St. Luke Hospital under the care of Dr. Jeffrey Snell. He has placed me on a great medical regimen. I must get my cardio in, keep my weight down, and watch my blood pressure and cholesterol level. I had participated with the American Heart Association Heart Walk even before joining DePaul University’s teams. I was a Heart Walk captain last year and will be participating in this year’s walk under the leadership of the DePaul’s Women Network.
The Heart Walk and our DWN blog serve as excellent educational and preventive tools. Walking is a great cardio exercise and is a blessing to the heart. Since my heart challenges, I make sure I walk daily and I get in at least 15-20 minutes of cardio exercise each day. I was informed after the heart attacks that my heart works at an 85 percent capacity. Sixteen years later, I believe it works at a higher level than 85 percent.
I raised a nephew who is now an OBGYN and who six years ago had twins (boy and girl). The boy was born with a heart problem that was discovered in the womb and at six months old he had open-heart surgery. It is vital that everyone learns of their family’s medical history and understands the medical history of their mates, partners, husband or wives. It can seriously make the difference of an attack or a failure.
Aileen K. Johnson is a member of DWN’s Service and Outreach team and is assistant director of conference services at DePaul University.