One spring morning in the nation’s capital, as I finished my morning chores, including a mild jog and exercise, and was getting ready to eat my breakfast – it all began. Suddenly, I felt faint and nausea. I was alone at home. My husband was in DC having left very early in the morning. My daughter was in New York City.
I panicked and was fearful that I would faint and may lose consciousness. I only remembered my husband’s phone no. and called him. Luckily he answered and I let him know that I felt faint and was going to call 911. He suggested that I keep the front door open. I quickly dialed 911 and let the agent know that I was fainting and was opening the front door. Immediately, I felt a congestion in my chest and I told the agent on the phone that I could no longer stand and hence was lying down flat on my belly in the foyer area. I do not know how long it took but when the fire engine and paramedics arrived (later learnt that it was within 5 minutes) I remember giving them my personal information and then blanked out.
Two weeks later, I woke up in the ICU of the hospital to hear that I had suffered a massive heart attack due to a blood clot inside my heart’s junction of main coronary artery, which effected two thirds of my heart and heart muscles.
I did not want to believe it, but my father had died of it at a young age, and then reality sunk in! That is what my Cardiologists concluded too after their diagnosis – acute myocardial infarction of anterolateral wall, and said the cause was due to family history and genetics. The doctors reassured me that there was nothing I could have done differently to prevent this. I was in great shape and young! I had no issues with bad cholesterol or anything else and I even ate healthy and exercised almost daily. I was told, my conscious efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle before the heart attack was key to my recovery. Technology has not yet progressed to the level where one can easily detect such genetic disorders early on and provide preventive treatment!
I learned later that the paramedics made the right decision to transport me via ambulance not to the nearest hospital, which was just 5 minutes away but to the specialty hospital 20 minutes away, one of the best Heart & Vascular Institutes in the Nation (INOVA Fairfax). This vital decision was made rightly by the paramedics at that critical time. It is thanks to the advocacy and efforts of the American Heart Association, from the CPR, emergency procedures to advanced treatments and trainings that enabled the paramedics to make the right judgmental call.
Once in the trauma center with emergency care staff and almost an hour of CPR and complications in the operating room, I spent nearly 3 months in the ICU and underwent my first open-heart surgery for an artificial heart (LVAD – Left Ventricle Assisted Device) implant. After adjusting to a new lifestyle with the artificial heart, I was given a second chance in life. I had a donor match and underwent a surgery again, this time for a heart transplant. I was very lucky – my good health beforehand helped me recover well from the trauma and two open-heart surgeries, all within less than a year.
My artificial heart pump was only FDA-approved much after I had undergone surgery for its implantation. Less than 3 months later, there was a newer and better version of the artificial heart. It is very clear the rapid progress made, but more efforts in preventative research are needed to tackle this number one cause of death. Heart disease accounts for 40% of all US deaths, more than all forms of cancer combined. Many researches on heart today, are not able to reach its fruition due to lack of funds.
In 2010, heart disease cost the US $316 billion, including the cost of health care services, medications and lost productivity. By 2030 the financial burden due to these diseases is projected to reach nearly US $1.3 Trillion. With 1.5 million heart attacks and strokes happening every year in the US, imagine the impact if we reduce death and disability from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20% by 2020!
The misconception that heart disease is a problem solved has resulted in chronic underfunding of research on heart disease and early-stage investments are rapidly declining. Heart and stroke research has revolutionized patient care. However, preventative care can help to reduce healthcare costs, but requires stable and sustained funding. Being an executive in the technology industry, now I am an advocate for using technology to solve the remaining myriad issues to tackle this No.1 killer disease.
We have been discussing physical external obesity, as an epidemic, how about discussing the obesity inside us (the fat arteries) and in the blood stream which we cannot see with naked eyes but is even more dangerous and leads to the No. 1 fatality for human beings. Let us be an advocate for preventive medical measures to resolve the internal obesity!