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A killer once stalked me, almost snuffing out my young life.
The deadly force didn't lurk around corners, sneaking quick peeks or huddle outside the shrubs in front of my house - watching, waiting.
This frightening phantom was hiding inside my chest, little by little, growing over many years.
It was coronary heart disease.
The dreaded slayer takes more lives than any other disease in the U.S., and it had my number.
I was only 38 years old in July 2006 when unexpectedly I had a heart attack. Over the course of the next week, I fought for my life against this exterminator that kills more than 400,000 people in this country every year.
Incredible fatigue had haunted me for months, but I was a successful businesswoman with a stressful job that followed me home. It didn't seem strange that I would be tired.
What should have seemed unusual was that I was young and every morning I'd get up and feel like I'd already put in a 12-hour day at the office, yet the day had just begun.
I should have sought medical help, but instead I shrugged it off. That decision was nearly one of my last ones.
February is American Heart Month, a time to educate everyone about this disease. I hope my story might help keep someone else from making the bad decisions that I did.
Cardiovascular disease, which includes high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure, kills more people every year than all forms of cancer put together. That's hard to believe, but true. Just one more reason that everyone needs to be alert and connected to the symptoms of this group of diseases.
Thousands of people find out that they have heart disease when they have their first heart attack. Unfortunately, many never will know what happened because they will die from that first attack.
The day that I had my heart attack, I believed that it was a terrible case of indigestion. I'd had a history of stomach issues and thought that I was simply having a flare up.
Nausea soon followed the indigestion and over the course of the next couple of days I didn't eat a lot.
Guests had come to visit me for the weekend, so I muddled my way through entertaining and believed that my stomach would get better in a few days or that I would eventually end up at the doctor's office.
By Monday morning, I felt faint after getting out of the shower. I called in sick, then called the doctor's office that afternoon and got an appointment for the next day.
Fortunately, Dr. Ana Lagunzad in Cannelton, Ind., didn't believe that I had indigestion. She looked at my family history, which included heart disease on both sides and then started asking questions. By the time she was done, she believed it was my heart that was sick and not my stomach.
She was right.
Shortly after that, I was in a hospital in Owensboro in the cardiac care unit. Nurses hovered over me for the next couple of days while wires covered my chest and tubes went up my nose and into my veins.
Within a week's time, I had two angioplasties with five stents placed in two of my major coronary arteries.
I recovered with no damage to my heart. I take several medications now and will for the rest of my life.
I'm blessed and lucky.
Heart attack symptoms vary from person to person, especially in women. We often think of the man on TV grabbing his chest and falling to the floor with crushing pains. It didn't happen that way for me and doesn't for many people.
Heart attacks often cause discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and returns. The feeling could be uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
Symptoms in other parts of the body include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
A person having a heart attack could feel shortness of breath that may be with or without chest discomfort.
Other symptoms may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
Anyone having these symptoms should seek immediate medical care. Don't wait because of feeling embarrassed. If it's not a heart attack, that's OK. We all know the old cliché that it's better to be safe than sorry.
It could be the difference in life and death.
- Teresa Rice is a resident of Bardstown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.