Nothing could have prepared Terri, an avid photographer, for the day she suddenly felt a crushing pain in her chest as she was driving home from work. It radiated up to her neck and down her arms. At age 37, Terri did not even consider that she might be having a heart attack. Still, she drove straight to the GRHS emergency room “just to get something for the pain.”
When Terri described her symptoms, she received an exam, blood draw, EKG and the calm but direct voice of Dr. James Jessen saying she’d be going back to the Cities by ambulance to be checked for heart blockages. When she arrived at Abbott Northwestern Hospital just 45 minutes later, doctors placed three stents – tiny metal scaffolds that prop open damaged blood vessels – in Terri’s blocked arteries to restore normal blood flow.
“I still didn’t think my situation was life-threatening. It didn’t hit me until the next day when a nurse mentioned I’d had a heart attack,” Terri says.
Terri certainly wasn’t a textbook case: female, age 37, normal blood pressure and cholesterol. But she was overweight, a smoker and both of her parents had a history of heart problems, which are all significant risk factors. Her father died of a heart attack in his 40s.
Terri started a cardiac rehab program at GRHS one week after her stents were placed. A nurse monitored Terri’s vital signs closely to make sure her heart was performing well as she worked out on an exercise bike, step machine and treadmill.
Increasing her time spent exercising is just one of many changes Terri is making to ward off future heart trouble. Terri now uses a children’s plate for her meals to help with portion control, she eats a salad with every dinner – no dressing, just balsamic vinegar – and reduces sodium intake by avoiding fast and processed foods. Stopping smoking, a habit since Terri was 16, is a continuing journey. She uses a nicotine patch to ease cravings.
After her dramatic experience, Terri encourages everyone to know the signs of heart problems and to take action if they are at risk. “If it happened to me, it could happen to you. You can sit and cry about it, or you can figure out a way to fix it.”