Becoming an advocate for women’s heart health may have been destiny for Annette Sciberras. The 53-year-old has dealt with heart issues — for herself and others — her entire life. Despite being a cardiac nurse who possesses detailed knowledge about heart disease, Annette let her own heart health get away from her as she got older.
Born with a congenital heart defect, Annette had open-heart surgery in 1965 to repair a faulty valve. The procedure was innovative at the time, especially for a 5-year-old. Her parents wanted her to live a normal life, so they educated themselves about heart disease and raised Annette with an active lifestyle.
As an adult, Annette’s interest in health issues inspired her to become a cardiac nurse. Soon she found herself taking care of her patients and her aging parents, who both battled heart disease. But like many caregivers, Annette put her own health aside to focus on her family. And she ignored the warning signs that something might be wrong.
“In retrospect I know the signs were all there — I see patients with heart disease every day,” Annette says. “But I was juggling my four children, a demanding job and my parents’ declining health and I just ignored the chest pains I was having.”
When her mother passed away after a heart attack and a stroke, Annette could no longer be idle about her own health. She collapsed when she saw her mother’s lifeless body in the ICU bed. The diagnosis: “broken heart syndrome,” a type of cardiomyopathy caused by extreme stress. Ironically, Annette’s mother had been warning her in the months before that she needed to focus on her own health again.
“My mother spent her last months of life trying to convince me to take better care of myself,” Annette says. “This event was a wake-up call and it made me feel closer to her than ever.”
After having a stent inserted and starting recovery from the cardiomyopathy, Annette thought about what she could do to inspire others to lead a heart-healthy life.
“I wanted to help people the way my mother had helped me,” she says. “I believe I am alive today because of her ongoing commitment to my health.”
Annette has become an advocate for women’s heart health because she feels that women are less aware of their risks. This fall, she will begin working in undeserved communities in Detroit to screen people and educate them about the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Her message to female patients, family and friends: Balancing work and family obligations must be a bigger priority.
“We have to learn to manage stress and all the demands of daily life better,” Annette says. “As women, we always worry about others but we must also recognize the importance of our own health.”