Excerpts from A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life:
The HEART Program for Health and Longevity
Chapter 1: It Kills More Women
It's shocking! Heart disease kills more women than men in the
and has for twenty years. Why haven't we heard that? How could we possibly lose almost half a million women each year in the
to cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke) and not be hearing about it? That's almost 1,400 women every day, ten times as many as we lose to breast cancer, and five times as many as to all cancers combined. Forty per cent of ustwo out of every five womenwill get, and die from, cardiovascular disease. If you have a family history of heart disease, your risk is very high.
Until recently, women rarely encountered heart disease before the age of 65, and it was thought that estrogen provided a protective effect before menopause. Now, heart disease has become a younger woman's disease, often happening in our 30s, 40s, or 50s, just like with men, because there are more women in the workplace now and we have the same stresses as men at work. The impact of those stresses on us may be greater because the business world is built on a masculine model, and isn't always "female-friendly".
In addition to our stress from the business world, we tend to have family stress, as well, since women have long tended to carry a disproportionate share of the family responsibility. Though that's changing in many households, we still have the long-term effects.
What's really scary is seeing heart disease now among women in their 20s, and even in their teens. It is largely attributable to diet and overweight, especially given today's high levels of soda and junk food consumption.
Another problem is our sedentary lifestyles. With increased job demands and family needs, it's often hard to find time for exercise and taking care of ourselves.
There are many other reasons that we lose more women than men, and we'll explore those in more detail in later chapters.
Let's next explore my storywhat happened, why, and most importantly what it means to you.
Chapter 2: My Story: One Millimeter to Live
What Happened to Me
March 25 was my own personal September 11. Before that, I felt immortal.
At the time, I was a road-warrior, traveling as much as 95% of the time as a consultant for a high-tech firm. A typical week meant one, two, or three cities, with marathon meetings, constant conference calls, and working around the clock. The productivity meter at work ratcheted higher every month, every quarter, and every year, and my life was frenetic and stressful. Keeping up in my field was impossible due to the relentless waves of information constantly crashing over me, threatening to wash me away. I had learned to control it, but it was still stressful.
Though I loved my job, and really did enjoy the travel, the changes caused by September 11 had made the constant travel much more stressful.
One afternoon, I was headed to
for customer meetings. After running the security gauntlet, I was in the departure lounge checking e-mail and logged into a virtual meeting when a customer called.
"Hey, Rick. Sure, I’ll e-mail you the latest slides when I get to
Just then, the gate agent, with her nasal voice, announced the flight. "Ladies and gentlemen, flight 1733 is ready for boarding," she said. "All Advantage Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum passengers are welcome to board. If the other two of you will wait a moment, we’ll call for you shortly.” Then she cringed as she stepped over to the door to process the herd.
As regulars on that flight, everyone wanted to get on first to stash their stuff, so I wondered if there would still be space in the overhead when I got on. Fortunately, there was, so I hoisted my rollaboard into the overhead, put my computer bag under the seat in front of me, and started pulling out my PC gear.
The American Airlines flight between Austin and San Jose is called the “Nerd Bird” because we geeks and geekettes carry a cell phone or two, a pager, a PDA, noise canceling headphones, a
player, a laptop PC with wireless card, a power plug for the under seat outlets, and of course enough cables to wire the terminal. There is more electronic gear per-capita than on any other flight. The flight is so quietall you hear is the tap, tap, taping of keyboards.
Why do we techies carry all that gear? Well, you have to work the entire flight to keep up with your job. So before we took off, I pulled out my PC, connected to the wireless in the terminal, and downloaded the slides for my customer.
It was a good flight, and I got a lot of work done. I worked on several presentations and meeting agendas, and also processed many of the hundreds of e-mails that had come in while I was in meetings all day.
When we landed, I turned on my cell phone, pulled my rollaboard out of the overhead, plunked my computer bag on top, and charged up the jetway. This time something was different as it was harder to breathe. "Maybe it's molds from the recent rains here in San Jose," I thought, since I'm very sensitive to molds.
I kept on going through the terminal, past security, down the escalators, and out to the rental car shuttle, which had moved about two blocks farther down. As I slung my bags on board, I could barely breathe and my left shoulder ached. I thought back to that USA Today article I had just read containing new research that women have different heart attack symptoms from menwhere men have crushing chest pains, which they frequently refer to as "the elephant on the chest," and buckets of sweat, women's symptoms are more subtle.
If our symptoms are so subtle, how does a woman know that she's having a heart attack? She can have any, or all, of the four main symptoms: shortness of breath, tiredness (or fatigue or sleeplessness), nausea, or pain in the left shoulder or arm (or jaw or shoulder blade). I had two of those symptoms, so I arranged to see my doctor when I arrived back in Austin, and monitored myself the rest of the trip.
I told my doctor that I had experienced shortness of breath, which I chalked up to molds, but wondered if it could be related to my heart because I also had pain in my left shoulder. I had an abnormal EKG, so she sent me to the emergency room.
"Can I drive myself? No? I didn't think so," I said, as she offered to call me an ambulance.
Enroute to the emergency room, my blood pressure spiked. While it had been low at the doctor’s office, I guess I was scared and panicky. Wouldn't you have been, too?
At the emergency room, they took me into the
and treated me for a heart attack. A half dozen doctors and nurses were running around, asking questions, prodding and poking, and giving me nitroglycerin. All that frantic activity was enough to give anyone a heart attack!
When the cardiologist arrived, he was gentle and caring, which relieved a lot of my anxiety. He ordered all kinds of testschest X-rays, scans, and lots of othersand we didn't find anything. At least he thought that it wasn't a heart attack, but he did want to keep me all weekend for monitoring.
I was a reluctant patient. I felt like I needed to be home that weekend working on my taxes as it was almost April 15 and with all my traveling I just hadn't had the time to do them. I really just didn't have time for this, so while waiting for my room, I returned customer calls because I had promised I would call back after my doctor appointment. I wasn't worried about what they would find because I'm just too young to have heart disease. Wouldn't you have felt that way, too?
It hadn't sunk in, and I was totally in denial. I just didn't understand the significance. Are you ever that way? Do you ever postpone your own needs because you're so busy? We women tend to do that to ourselves as we're always busy taking care of everyone else.
"I'll go home and get your suitcase," my husband said.
"You'll need to unpack all my business suits since I just got home from the trip. Please make sure to bring my computer."
When he got back without my computer, I was annoyed. I had so much e-mail and work to do that I just couldn't get by without it. But, he brought me some books, and refused to get my computer. What could I do? I resigned myself to spending the weekend reading. At least he brought travel books so I could focus on planning the trip we had just booked for my mother, two sisters, and I to Rome and Florence. At least I could do something useful, and not waste my time!
Can you relate to that? Never wanting to waste a minute? While a road warrior lifestyle is stressful, being a Type A meant that some of my stress was most likely self-inflicted. Where did this Type A behavior come from? I think mine was genetic. While I grew up, my mother was a high-achiever who could never tolerate idle hands. Type A behavior now seems to run in our family. Does it run in your family, too?
They monitored me all weekend, and on Monday we would meet with the cardiologist to decide between a stress test and a heart catheterization. A stress test indicates heart problems, but isn't very reliable. A more reliable alternative is the heart catheterization. Doesn't that sound like fun? To do it, they cut open your leg, pump in some dye, and X-ray you to look for blockage. A catheterization is 100% reliable, but it is invasive. I didn't want to do it, and I sure didn't want to be railroaded into it.
On Monday morning, I couldn't have coffee or food in case I needed the catheterization, so I was groggy and walked up and down the hall to wake up. Suddenly, my cardiologist zoomed in holding up a printout.
“What were you doing?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“Just walking,” I innocently answered.
“Well, you just had your stress test," he said. "We’re doing that heart catheterization now."
, the orderly, wheeled me down. He was a hoot! He wore teal, yellow, and lavender printed scrubsquite a contrast to his flaming red hair. He cracked killer jokes. As he wheeled me out the door, I asked "Is this a joke? Where are we going?"
"The mobile cath lab,” he said, as we bumped down the sidewalk and across the parking lot, laughing and joking. Then he strapped the gurney into a window-washer platform, and I'd swear I saw him hoist me up by pulling on ropes.
Once inside, Beth, my bartender, knocked me out and before I knew it we were done. They found a major coronary artery was 95% blocked, and I was probably within hours of a heart attack. What a relief to have escaped that!
The next day, they would send me to their sister hospital for surgerya balloon angioplasty to open the blockage and metal scaffolding, called a stent, to keep it open. It's just routine surgery so there was nothing to worry about.
I knew that I would miss some meetings, so that evening I set about making phone calls, leaving voicemails, rescheduling meetings, and asking colleagues to cover for me, all the while thinking that I would be back at work within a day or so. There was so much to be done that I really couldn't afford to be gone.
The next morning, the paramedics transported me to the other hospital for my surgery. I remember them asking me what I did, and when they found out that I was a road warrior with a high tech company, they started grilling me about how to set up Internet and wireless access and all kinds of techie subjects. We laughed and joked the whole way, alleviating much of my anxiety. Since they weren't familiar with the route between the two hospitals, and I drove it frequently, I pointed out landmarks and directed them to the hospital while laying down and strapped to the gurney. "You drive," one of them jokingly suggested.
At the other hospital, my new surgeon popped in to meet me. He was tall and olive-skinned, with a strong accent and a serious demeanor. My husband and I grilled him extensively about the procedure, his experience, and anything else that was relevant as I absolutely wasn't going under until both my husband and I were confident about the surgery. He had lots of experience, and a great track record, so there was nothing to be concerned about.
As they wheeled me into the operating suite, I chatted extensively with the nurses until the surgeon arrived. I remember being awake through the entire surgery, and I even watched it on the TV monitors. I kept hearing seriousness in my surgeon's tone of voice, but, being under sedation, I didn't quite internalize what it meant. He seemed to be having difficulty, and I heard him say, “It's too short. Get a longer guide wire. We need one more millimeter.”
After removing the original guide wire, and replacing it with the longer one, he still seemed to have difficulty placing the stent. I couldn't really tell what the problem was, but I could see that he was pale and ashen gray.
Once the surgery was done, they couldn't stop the bleeding. I'll just bet that entire surgical team needed a stiff drink after my surgery. Actually, if I'd known what that night was going to be like for me, including that my blood pressure would plummet to the point that they had to call the surgeon, I probably could have used a stiff drink, too.
The next morning, my surgeon came in. "How are you doing this morning?" he asked, with no hint of the challenges in surgery. "Yesterday was difficult. Your blockage was at a juncture," he said, as he drew a picture of it. "It was closeputting the stent here at the blockage, in just one side of the juncture, would have cut off blood flow to the other. You almost had a massive heart attack right there on the operating table. It was close, but that one millimeter made all the difference." It was then that I realized that even though he had performed over a thousand successful stent surgeries, he had nearly lost me.
"If you don't do something about your weight, your stent will need to be replaced, probably within three to six months," he continued. "After that close call, we can't do stent surgery again, so you'll have open heart surgery." That hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks, and just about knocked me flat.
"Let's get you out of here. You can go back to work in a few days, but don't travel for at least two weeks." With that, he reached over and pulled off one of the leads to my heart monitor and said with a grin, "that'll get a nurse in here quickly," as he displayed his less-serious side.
One millimeter made all the difference. One millimeter is barely visible to the eye, and yet, it saved my life.
Why It Happened
What caused my heart disease? You can’t prevent it if you don’t know what causes it. More importantly, how can you avoid it?
It's odd. I really wasn’t a candidate for heart disease. I’m much too youngthat’s an older person’s disease, or so I thought. The reality is that you can be vulnerable at almost any age.
There are four major risk factors: smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, which I didn't have any of. In fact, my blood pressure and cholesterol were low as I always ate healthfully, with mostly organic foods and no fried foods. Did I have family history? At first, my doctors thought so, but have since discounted that, too.
It boiled down to my being overweight and over-stressed. Stress hijacks healthy habits, and caused me to be overweight.
However, stress and overweight weren't really the causes of my heart diseasethey were just symptoms. As I probed deeper, l realized that I was so busy with the craziness of my road-warrior life that I hadn't taken care of me. I thought I had, but there was so much more I could have done. Now I have heart disease forever.
The rest of the book is focused on you and what you can take away from my experience and put into practice to save your own life. Here's what you'll find in the book...
Part I: Surviving the #1 Killer
Gives you background about the problem, shares Mellanie's story, and discusses what you can learn from it.
Chapter 1: It Kills More Women
Chapter 2: My Story: One Millimeter to Live
Chapter 3: My Program to Save My Life
Chapter 4: Getting a Second Chance
Chapter 5: Heart Disease is Forever
Part II: What Every Woman Should Know About Heart Disease
Gives you the information for figuring out how this impacts you and what you can do about it.
Chapter 6: Heart Disease is the #1 Killer of Women (and Men, Too!)
Chapter 7: Heart Disease Risks
Chapter 8: Heart Attack and Stroke Symptoms
Chapter 9: Diagnosing Heart Disease
Chapter 10: Why is Heart Disease More Difficult to Diagnose in Women?
Chapter 11: Heart Disease is Preventable
Part III: Designing Your Plan to Save Your Own Life
Gives you information to prevent heart and other diseases, and helps you implement your plan to save your own life.
Chapter 12: Why You Need a Plan
Chapter 13: The Process for Developing Your Plan
Chapter 14: Where Do You Want to Go?
Chapter 15: Creating Your HEART Program
Chapter 16: Healthy Eating: Eat Right to Live Right
Chapter 17: Exercise Daily
Chapter 18: Attitude About Stress: How You Can Learn to Love Stress
Chapter 19: Rest, Relaxation, and Rejuvenation
Chapter 20: Take Proactive Control of Your Health
Chapter 21: Putting It All Together and Making a Commitment
Appendix A: Master Forms
Appendix B: Resources
If you're ready to get started, just click on the link below to order and in just minutes you'll have your own copy and can start putting this program to work for you. It's risk free, so you have nothing to lose.
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If you're still not sure, then take a moment to watch my story.
See where Mellanie is speaking.