Surviving a Heart Attack and Transforming Health

By Courtenay Verret – February 1, 2014

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an estimated 43 million women in the United States are affected by heart disease. Jennie Stewart is one such woman who, at the age of 41, was taken by surprise when she suffered a heart attack. Fortunately, thanks to the quick action of a friend who spotted the warning signs, Stewart received swift medical attention and survived. Stewart, now a spokesperson for the AHA, visited with Austin Fit Magazine about her charge to help others fight heart disease. Tell us about your health scare. As a 41-year-old woman, I never even worried about a heart attack. Breast cancer seemed more like the thing to get screened for. Heart attacks are for old men, right? Wrong. I had no warning signs. My cholesterol has always been perfect, and I actually have low blood pressure. I rarely drink, never have smoked or done drugs, and have always exercised regularly. My weight has fluctuated my whole life; it has always been the hardest thing for me to maintain. Luckily, I was at home with my 10-year-old when the signs started. First, it was numbness in my right arm, followed by heartburn. I was in the kitchen cooking and seriously thought I had eaten something really bad. The heartburn went into a tight pain in my chest that kept getting worse. We were expecting company any minute, so I told my son to listen for the door. I made it into the bathroom and broke into a profuse sweat. And then the doorbell rang. I scrambled to find some dry clothes, talking to myself, saying, “It's OK; get it together.” I peeked my head out of my bedroom and my friend rushed in. I told her what was happening, but I was sure it was something I ate. After I vomited, she was convinced I was having a heart attack. Lucky for me she knew the signs. I disagreed with her, saying no way—I am 41. Thank goodness she called 911. Within minutes, fire and EMS were in my room. Fifty-two minutes later, I had two stents in my circumflex artery. I am beyond grateful that I was in the most capable and professional hands that day—from my friends, to the Westlake Fire Fighters, EMS, North Austin Medical, and the cardiologists. Fifty-two minutes is amazing and the reason I have no damage to my heart muscle.     What are some of the recommendations your doctors made to you after your heart attack?  My cardiologist, Dr. Erol Ozdil said that patients who have trouble after a heart attack usually are not keeping up with their medications. He suggested I maintain my exercise, eat healthy, take my medicine, and keep my check-up appointments. I once walked into an appointment in his office with a latte in my hand. I won't be doing that again—I’m working on limiting caffeine.   How has your life changed since your heart attack?  Because there was really no reason this should have happened to me, I have a much stronger faith now. I do believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe I just needed to slow down and be more grateful for everything and everyone. It has made me prioritize things and let go of some of the negatives I was allowing in my life.   I was 41 when I had a heart attack. I am a wife and busy mother of three. I also work for my family in the automobile business. I used to drink coffee every day, plus about two diet sodas. Since my heart attack, I am down to maybe one caffeinated drink a day. My activity level has always been good. I manage to exercise at least four days a week.   What can others learn from your experience? My friend Wendy Wilbanks is my angel. She knew the signs, and it saved my life. I want people to know the signs for themselves, and maybe they can be someone's angel. I would also say not to take anything for granted.     How did you get involved with the AHA? They approached me. It was a no brainer when they asked me to help. Sometimes you look for a cause to support, and, in this case, the cause found me—and it means so much more. As chair of the Go Red for Women ( campaign, I am helping to plan our summit on Feb. 26. This will be an educational event with women sharing their stories and spreading the word about fighting heart disease.



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