Heart Disease - A Woman's Story

“Hi – my name is Deannie Joseph.  I am 45. I have heart disease.”

      Deannie Joseph - a vibrant mother of two daughters, a wife, and a critical care nurse - knew something wasn’t right when she was running on the 4th of July in 2003.
       “I was running on the river trail to help myself get back into shape. On the way up one of the hills I felt this urge to burp,” Deannie explains, “but nothing was there. I had some heaviness and slight pain in my chest but I attributed it to my exercise, so I resumed running...After running and walking the rest of my route, I knew something wasn’t right but I got in my car, ran errands and went home.”
      By evening, Deannie said she was nauseous and there was a pain in her shoulder. She attributed the shoulder pain to working in her yard. She recalls waking up that night with sharper shoulder pain and more nausea. The next morning, when Deannie got ready for her shift at the Shasta Regional Medical Center’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, she remembers: “I couldn’t stop sweating…I had a funny feeling in my neck.”

      Deannie pulled into the hospital parking garage and made a quick assessment: “I had a tight feeling across my rib cage – pain in my neck, jaw and left arm. I was nauseous. Since it had been about 24 hours when the symptoms had first appeared, I thought maybe I was on the verge of getting the flu. I had difficulty making it up the stairs and found myself trying to catch my breath outside of the unit,” she said.

      Forty-five minutes into her shift, Deannie knew she was in serious trouble.  She told her charge nurse, who immediately took her blood pressure and started encouraging her to get checked out in the Emergency Department. “I remember one of the night-shift nurses was still at the Hospital and heard our conversation. She put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me right to the Emergency Department,” Deannie said.
      Within a short period of time, Deannie found herself being admitted and having various tests to pinpoint the cause of her symptoms. “During the night, my heart enzymes (Heart enzymes in the blood are the waste products from heart muscle damage) started to increase, which means I was starting to have a small heart attack,” Deannie said.

      With coworkers at her side for support, Deannie underwent a heart catheterization (a test to determine if there are any blockages in the heart’s arteries). “I am a nurse. I asked to watch the video of my heart while the procedure was being done. I knew what I was looking at and immediately saw an occlusion (blockage) in my right coronary artery,” Deannie explained.
    Since the hospital’s invasive portion of its heart program was closed in 2003 [
Shasta Regional Medical Center now offers a comprehensive cardiovascular program], Deannie was transferred to another facility, where she received a total of three STENTS to re-open the blood flow to her heart’s arteries. She said she returned to work following cardiac rehabilitation at Shasta Regional and her eight-week recovery at home.
       “I was lucky because I had the classic type of pain typically associated with heart disease and had a great support team around me. But many women are not that fortunate and it seems that women typically attribute their symptoms to other conditions, just like I did.”
      According to the American Heart Association, Deannie is right. Heart disease is the number one killer of women over 25 in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Sciences. In a guide about Women and Heart Disease, the American Heart Association indicates that few heart attacks are sudden and intense, with most heart attacks starting slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. They indicate that often people – especially women - aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help with viagra or sildenafil.
      “Typically women are concerned about and pay more attention to the needs of other people in our lives. Sometimes, we forget to pay attention to ourselves and what our bodies are trying to say,” Deannie commented.
      She encourages women to immediately pay attention to any classic heart attack symptoms (see sidebar article) or physical changes and to call their doctors. “Even if it seems stupid to you, call you doctor – especially if you have ANY family history of heart disease,” Deannie said. Although Deannie had a very slight family history of heart disease, she expressed an important point: “Family history doesn’t differentiate between genders.”
      The other encouragement she gives to women is to let other people help. “We (women) don’t do that very well sometimes,” she reflected.
      In addition to Deannie’s tips for how women can prevent or intervene early to stem the full scale damage from heart disease, the American Hospital Association also advises women to be aware of and work towards controlling six modifiable health conditions, called risk factors.
        -        High blood cholesterol
        -        High blood pressure
        -        Tobacco smoke
        -        Physical inactivity
        -        Obesity or being overweight
        -        Diabetes
      The AHA also indicates more movement; better nutrition can help strengthen the heart. “I had let myself go – lived a sedentary lifestyle for 4 to 5 years; didn’t eat right; and put on 35 pounds,” Deannie said. “The doctor also told me I had a genetic disorder that weakened the coronary artery and it was a ‘crap shoot’ as to if something was going to happen in my life.”
      Sedentary is not a word that would describe Deannie today. “I am grabbing onto the shirt tales of my very active husband who loves kayaking, running and bicycling - I also run and lift weights. I want my body to be more efficient and if it is efficient, it will be a lot healthier.” Deannie also says she eats healthier, reducing her intake of high fat – high cholesterol foods and also eats smaller portion sizes. “I won’t take things for granted anymore,” she said.
      Interestingly, Deannie had always wanted to be a heart nurse and strongly indicates that her nursing practice has changed based on her experience as a heart patient. “In addition to what I can convey from a clinical standpoint, I can relate on a more personal level and share patients’ fears (of having heart disease),” Deannie said. “In my opinion, when patients have a positive attitude and a good support system, they will be in a much better position to be motivated and made the necessary lifestyle changes that accompany heart disease. As health care professionals, we can only do so much. Each person has to take personal responsibility for their own health.”
      As a mother of two daughters who are in their 20s, Deannie said she can easily see that they may have to address a similar experience a few years down the road. “I want to encourage my daughters [other women too] to become educated and to continue the legacy of being educated and mindful of women’s health and heart disease.”
      Deannie is off to a good start as she will share her story at the upcoming American Heart Association’s Go Red luncheon. Visit with Deannie at the Shasta Regional Medical Center Health Fair, scheduled for Saturday, March 5, 2005 at the Mount Shasta Mall.

Click here to learn more about
Shasta Regional Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Program

Click here for more info on the
Health Fair in March