The large screen displayed my heart in full, magnified view. The dye flowed through the veins, spreading through my heart with each heartbeat. Suddenly it stopped on one side of my heart, clearly unable to pass through the one artery.
Dr. Renner expressed utter shock as she informed me that I have coronary artery disease. The disbelief in her voice, spoke for itself, but she also verbalized it.
“What does this mean?” I asked. Shock set in quickly, even as the questions formed. I needed answers. How could this happen to me? We didn’t have a strong family history of heart disease. Yes, my Grandpa had died in his eighties and Dad had died in his seventies after fighting diabetes and not watching his diet. I was young, healthy and high energy.
My mind raced again. Did I have weeks? Days? Months? Years, if I was lucky?
“This is odd.” Dr. Renner spoke again, obviously puzzled by what she saw. “All of your other arteries are perfect.” She paused, assessing the images on screen. “You have beautiful arteries! It’s just that one artery that is completely blocked.”
“See this here,” she pointed to the blocked artery, “no blood is getting through.” She went on to show me the normal arteries and blood vessels and how the blood flowed through, branching out from the main vessel, to provide oxygen to every part of the heart. She then explained that she was quite certain the blockage was not plaque but, that, in fact, she believed it had collapsed.
“What would cause something like that?” I asked
“Drugs. It’s something we see in young men who over exert themselves after doing dope.”
“Yeah…. that would not be me! I only tried it twice in my life and not even a whole joint! And that was twenty years ago! Is there anything else that could cause it?” I wanted answers. Fears threatened. Would I spend the rest of my life on the edge of death? (The mind is a funny thing… We all are nothing more than a breath, a heartbeat, away from death.)
“I’m going to try to balloon it and see if we can open it back up.” Ballooning went well and, to my relief, the blood flowed normally again. Dr. Renner observed it for five minutes to see if it would stay open or collapse again. Gradually the vessel constricted, leaving us with no choice but to proceed with an angioplasty—inserting a stent into my Left Anterior Descending Artery, to keep it open.
“Is the stent made with surgical stainless steel?” I asked.
“Are you allergic to metals?” she asked.
“I can handle surgical stainless steel, sterling silver and gold.”
It was determined that to proceed would put me at undue risk of my artery becoming blocked again due to scabbing, caused by allergic reaction to the metals. Dr. Renner and the medical team consulted with another cardiologist in the hospital to determine what would be the best course of action. In the end, they called a specialist at another hospital for advice. The final answer was to use a titanium stent, and soon the procedure was completed.
Walking out of OR ahead of me as the nurses pushed my bed through the doors, Dr. Renner greeted Tim in the waiting area. “We all have egg on our faces,” she said, before telling him that I had suffered a serious heart attack and explained what had turned a thirty minute procedure into several hours of waiting for him.
The care I received at St. Mary’s Hospital was second to none. Nurses, while busy, never neglected to check on me and respond to call bells. As traumatic as the experience was, they brought a sense of calm and safety to my badly shaken world.
Toward evening I noticed what felt like a wheezing or ‘sqeaking’ in my chest when I breathed. Memories are vague. I was exhausted and drifted in and out of sleep but at some point the nurse informed me that I had developed a touch of Pericarditis from the strain on my heart.
Oh the irony! The thing that the medical team originally thought had started the heart issues, and had delayed me getting the help I needed, had developed in the end, because of the delay! Whatever it meant in terms of my ongoing health, I believed I would be okay. Either way, the road ahead was not going to be easy, and the recovery would require time and patience.
When tragedy strikes, we instinctively go into survival mode, numb to reality. It is only in hindsight that we recognize this ‘autopilot’ and the shock and strain of what we lived through. Even fear is put on hold, in extreme situations, until a time when we are able to process it. For me that ‘day of reckoning’ with this reality, came a few months after I was released from hospital. I had moments of curiosity about what had really happened, but I had not found the courage to explore it, until that day.
As I am wont to do, when looking for information, I wandered over to my computer and started to search reliable websites, like Mayo clinic and others like it, to find out exactly what an LAD collapse is, and what the associated risks are, both short term and long term. On one site, I read several stories of other young women who had suffered this particular heart attack, also with no explanation as to the cause. I learned that it is one of the most dangerous heart attacks—morbidly known as ‘the Widow Maker’—and that I was fortunate to be alive, even though the apex of my heart was quite damaged.
One article in particular terrified me. A woman in Dallas Texas, only thirty-seven years old, had survived the heart attack and three months later suffered Sudden Cardiac Death just as she arrived at the hospital emergency unit for help.
I stopped reading and stumbled to the phone. I called Tim. I was cold, shaking. Tim answered. All my fears spilled out. I was going to die. The apex of my heart had been quite damaged and one day, I was certain, I would drop over dead. I was worried about our little children. Who would care for them?
Tim listened patiently and tried to reassure me. It was the first time I faced my fears head on. I wanted so desperately to trust God with my life, and sometimes I did, but in those vulnerable moments, fear took over and I felt like I was suffocating again. Eventually I hung up and tried to go back to what I had been doing before I searched for answers and found that story.
The story kept tugging at my mind and, with it, the fear. In a moment of resilient determination, I returned to the computer. I would finish reading the story and if it revealed I was high risk, I would deal with it. This torment could not continue.
To my amazement, only about two sentences later in the story, I discovered that the hospital staff were able to restart the woman’s heart and she went on to live a full and active life. I needed that reassurance, to know that there was hope and a chance that I would survive and live a full life. I still had work to do and there was one specific passion I needed to pursue. The thought of dying without it, grieved me deeply.
I knew I couldn’t put my faith in that information—only God is deserving of my faith—but in my humanity that boost gave me courage to face the future and let God bring something good out of yet another tragedy. And with time He would. That tragedy stirred in me the passion to pursue a dream that I had carried in my heart for many years; a dream that required courage. And that courage that had been developed by facing one fear after another over the course of many years. Now, facing the fear that my dream would go to the grave with me, I knew had to pursue.
In the hospital when I feared I would die, I begged God to let me live because I didn’t want Tim to be a widow, and for my family to have to do life without their mother. But there was one more prayer that I prayed. I wanted to survive so that I could tell my story and give other victims of abuse and violence the courage to face their pain, and overcome it by inviting Jesus into ‘the hell of life’.
The dream came complete with a plan, but I had never been able to see my way through that plan before because my fears were more powerful than my dream.
As I faced death, and the thought that my dream could go to the grave with me, my dream overpowered my fear. Somehow I knew I would survive and see that dream come to life.
Today I live that dream in the form of Generations Unleashed–a ministry we are launching with our first conference for men and women–and Faith Girls Unleashed the ministry we started for women in 2010.
I wouldn’t want to go through the heart attack again. I don’t believe it should have happened, and the medication we feel was to blame has been pulled from the market, for which we are thankful. But I am thankful that God used that near-death encounter to make me realize if I don’t risk the dream, it may well go to the grave with me.
© Trudy Metzger
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