Family history nudged Long Islander Dina Pinelli on a healthier path. After three heart attacks of her own, she urges others to understand their personal cardiovascular risk factors.
Dina Pinelli inherited a love of teaching from her parents. Her mother was a special education teaching assistant. Her father owned a beauty school and taught people to cut hair. She’s a fourth-grade teacher.
The Long Island New Yorker inherited something else — her dad’s high cholesterol. It had devastating results for her father and his two brothers, who suffered a type of heart attack called the widow-maker because of the low odds of survival. After her dad pulled through, Pinelli and her siblings got screened.
“I was the lucky one of the three of us that had the high cholesterol,” she said sarcastically.
Pinelli has been on a statin, a cholesterol-lowering medication, for the last 20 years. She also hired a personal trainer and dropped 100 pounds by eating healthier and doing a mix of strength training and cardio. And she rediscovered her love of yoga and a new passion for meditation to help support her mental health. Years later she became a certified yoga teacher.
Fast forward to the start of the pandemic: Pinelli started teaching virtually, her basement flooded and she got a puppy. She was stressed, but she would also lose her breath and break into a sweat simply walking her puppy, Ananda.
Then two months later, one night in June 2020 while on a meditation retreat, Pinelli jolted awake to the dog licking her hand and arm.
“She saved me,” Pinelli said. “I looked at her and said, ‘Ananda, I think I’m having a heart attack.’”
But she couldn’t convince herself it was true because she was 45 and healthy. Pinelli didn’t call 911 thinking maybe it was anxiety. But it felt like she had been in a boxing match without gloves, with pain in her wrists and elbows, chest and back. She sat in bed for almost an hour before taking a pain reliever and going back to sleep.
On Monday, Pinelli scheduled a doctor’s appointment for Thursday. Meantime, she told herself she must be out of shape and challenged herself to a 5K a day on her treadmill.
“I’m walking at like a 1.0 (mph). I can barely do that, and I am pouring sweat,” she said. “I basically watch the treadmill go and do a 5K while I do nothing but stand on the outsides of it.”
At her appointment, the doctor performed an electrocardiogram on her heart and said she needed to go to the hospital. There another EKG looked concerning enough that the cardiologist told Pinelli he wanted her to do a stress test.
“I laughed, and I said, ‘Good luck, because I’ve been trying to give myself one all week.’”
Doctors skipped the stress test after results of a blood test came back. Pinelli kept hearing the words “cardiac event,” but it didn’t register as a heart attack. They rushed her to the cath lab to check the internal workings of her heart. The cardiologist found 100% blockage of her left anterior descending (LAD) artery, or the widow-maker. He inserted a stent to restore blood flow.
Only when she got back to her hospital room and looked up the term widow-maker did Pinelli first see the words heart attack. At a cardiologist appointment a few days later, Pinelli learned she suffered two widow-maker heart attacks within five days. The first was that night of her meditation retreat. The second was on the treadmill. Pinelli couldn’t figure out how she was still alive.
“It wasn’t your time,” the doctor said.
A week later while walking her dog, Pinelli felt the familiar pain in her wrists and elbows. She was out of breath and sweating. She went to the doctor where they took blood to test for a possible heart attack. The next day she was back at the hospital for her second stent following her third heart attack.
“I did all the right things, I thought, and as my doctor told me, ‘You just can’t fight genetics.’”
Pinelli wants other women to know their family history and their important numbers like cholesterol and blood pressure.
Also, she knows having a dog is not only good for the soul but good for the heart. It can help reduce stress and help keep you active.
“She gets me moving even on the days I don’t want to get moving.”
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