My name is Michele DeMarco Wilkie, and a year and a half ago, at age 33, I suffered three Spontaneous Coronary Arterial Dissections (SCAD) that led to two heart attacks in the space of a single week. The doctors, even the most renowned among them at Massachusetts General Hospital, all told me they were, and by definition I now was, “sailing in uncharted waters” no one could tell me with any certainty why these heart attacks happened and if they would happen again. Indeed, I was “the picture of health” I had no risk factors; I was “in great shape” thanks to a healthy lifestyle; and I had no congenital issues that could be identified with the most sophisticated of tests. And still my heart tore open and twice I nearly died.
With a slew of medicine (that doctors admit may or may not help), the best medical support I could possibly want, and many somber well-wishes for a healthy and long life, I left the hospital dispirited about how to navigate these “uncharted waters” on my own and with little more to go on than a hope and a prayer. My heart attacks caused me to have a literal hole in my heart, but with this precarious send off, I also now felt a hole in my spirit.
So much of heart health today focuses on our physical health, and for good reason. Eating well, making healthy changes to our diet and exercise, getting routine medical exams, knowing the facts, etc. can make the difference between life and death. But we are not serving total health and total wellness if we limit our understanding of and efforts for the heart health campaign purely to the physical aspects of daily life, purely to our physical survival. There are many ways to survive – to live. And not all of them serve us well.
The fact is that any heart problem, nay any health concern or trauma, at any age, and coming from any background or belief, has a direct effect on our spirit.
In addition to being a two time heart attack survivor, I am the creator of Spiritful Living, integrative and inspiring program for wellness, specifically Spirit Wellness, for both spiritual and secular audiences. It leverages what I identify as the Six Fundamental Human Desires, those deepest longings that lie at the heart of every human life, that when satisfied, make our spirit well. And it is designed to be complementary with all approaches to physical wellness. I am also the author, among other publications, of Living Proof: A Life Without Fear, a memoir that chronicles not only my heart attacks and the year of healing that followed, but also, and perhaps more importantly, how we can all, when faced with any of life’s challenges, especially difficult diagnoses, “move from having a hole in our heart to being whole in spirit.”
The Go Red for Woman’s slogan, “Learn and live” must also include learning to live well in spirit, because while our bodies can and will wither with time and circumstance, our spirit can only deepen and grow, and sustain us no matter what our situation or our diagnosis if only we nourish it, and allow it to flourish and help us to be well.
I have taken this message to the streets (to the hospitals, cardiac rehab centers, bookstores, media outlets, public heart health events, even to individual’s homes) with much success. I also conduct related workshops at our Center for Spirit Wellness in Boston, MA. Survivors (or as I like to say “Thrivers”) of all ages and all belief systems, or for that matter no belief systems, all agree that a healthy spirit makes a huge impact on having a healthy heart and a healthy life going forward.
You speak of celebrating the “energy, passion, and power” of woman battling heart disease and stroke. Living with spirit, especially in the face of the fear and uncertainty that comes with any concerning or unwelcomed diagnosis, is precisely how these three things come about. It’s time we use our individual and collective passion, energy, and power – our spirit – not only to help eradicate heart disease, but also to help inspire and empower women whose lives have been made diseasesd by their condition. Indeed, we must “make a change” to serve our heart’s physical health; but we must also make a change to ensure the well being of our metaphorical heart – our spirit – that keeps us both going and growing.
Michele DeMarco Wilkie