Heather Hanes knew smoking might cause a problem in her lungs. But she had no idea smoking also caused heart attacks. Until her own on April 4.
That was when the cardiac team at Goshen Hospital Emergency found a 99 percent blockage in one of Heather’s arteries that supplies blood to her heart.
The evening of Heather’s heart attack started with a tightness in her chest that didn’t go away. Home with her three young children, she called the paramedics at the Bristol Fire Department, where her husband, Jim, worked. They wasted no time getting her to the Emergency Department after her electrocardiogram showed classic signs of a heart attack.
Shortly after she arrived, Dr. Blair MacPhail, Interventional Cardiologist, placed a stent in Heather’s blood vessel to open the artery and restore blood flow to her heart.
What signs did she miss?
Like many women, Heather dismissed symptoms often associated with heart disease: occasional pressure across her shoulders, a persistent cough, difficulty breathing, lack of energy, nausea and moodiness. She had a good excuse for each one. Allergies. Tight clothing. Overexertion. Stress.
Only 43, Heather believed she was too young to have a heart attack. Because there was a history of heart disease in her family, she monitored her cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose numbers with her family doctor. The numbers had never shown any reason for concern. Her doctor always encouraged her to quit smoking, though. And, she planned to – one day.
“We have diabetes in our family. I thought I’d be diabetic, not have a heart attack from smoking,” Heather said. “I always thought smoking would cause a lung issue.”
Heather had started smoking as a teenager. A few years ago, she quit for nine months. Then her resolve weakened, and she started smoking again. Before long, she was back to two packs a day.
Quitting smoking suddenly became much easier
While in the hospital recovering, Heather had a visit from Mark Potuck, Tobacco Treatment Specialist who talks to every patient who smokes.
“I spent 45 minutes with her, which is much longer than usual,” said Mark. “I talked about how toxins affect the cardiovascular system, emphasized how her family history increased her risk of having problems and gave her information on how to deal better with stress.”
When he explained that nicotine has the ability to constrict her blood vessels from the aorta to the smallest capillaries, Heather was convinced. She never wanted that feeling again. She has not smoked since.
Rebuilding her strength
When Heather learned that participating in cardiac rehabilitation could lower her risk of another heart attack, she enrolled in a six-week cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program at Goshen Heart & Vascular Center.
But she didn’t stop there. After graduating from cardiac rehab, Heather joined a fitness center. She takes walks with her children, using a Fitbit to keep her on track.
Heather is also back to taking care of her horses, making hay and feeling better than she has in months. The coughing has stopped. So has the nausea. She doesn’t rely on an inhaler anymore.
“I am constantly amazed at how much better I am feeling and how much stronger I have become,” Heather said.
Understanding the risks
More than 160,000 adults in the U.S. die each year from smoking-related cardiovascular disease.
Heart disease — not lung cancer — is the greatest health risk associated with smoking. Smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than men.
A free support group to help people quit smoking meets Tuesdays, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. at Goshen Heart & Vascular Center. Call (574) 364-2587 or just stop by. Goshen Health offers diabetes education, nutrition counseling, screenings and a heart risk assessment online. Talk to your primary care physician to find out what you can be doing now to strengthen your heart and minimize your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.