Today Please meet Kristin Feeley .
In the spirit of Heart Month I am sharing stories of fellow Heart Attack Survivors that I have met through The Under 55 Heart Attack Survivors Group on Facebook. Everyone has a story and I hope you will take a read and help us create awareness of the #1 Killer in North America.
I guess I should start my story when I was 7. My mother, while on the phone with the electric company, collapsed in our dining room. My father, a fireman and the other firefighters “worked” on her as they waited for an ambulance that never showed. They finally picked her up and put her in the squad car where she died on the way to the hospital. She died at the age of 38 of what I was later told a “sticky mitral valve”.
Last year, at the age of 39, on March 8, 2014 on an unseasonably warm, sunny day, I had my step-mother up to my house so we could find her a dog at the shelters near me. My daughter volunteered at a shelter and wanted her to check out a dog there, we visited 2 shelters and had picked out Arthur, a laid back Jack Russell and Chihuahua mix. We hadn’t eaten all day and couldn’t stop somewhere with the dog in the car so we drove her and the dog over an hour to the house I grew up in. When we got there we decided to order some take out from the pizza place, we all had chicken parmesan dinners.
After dinner, I was sitting in the same room that my mother collapsed in and started to feel a horrible pain in the center of my chest. At first I thought it may be indigestion, I was hungry didn’t eat all day and maybe ate a little too quickly. The longer I sat there the worse the pain seemed. I asked my step-mother for an aspirin because the nagging thought in the back of my head was this is a heart attack. She didn’t have an aspirin but had Aleve and so I took it just in case it had aspirin in it. I sat for a couple of minutes and then I started to have trouble breathing. I was starting to panic. I turned to my husband and said “I am having chest pain and can’t breathe, we need to go”. The phone rang and my step-mother picked up the phone and started talking to her son and all I could think is “I’m having a heart attack and she’s on the phone with her son?” My husband was mad at her and said we’re going. I got up and walked outside to our car. I felt weak and prayed I could make it to the car. My husband was trying to get my daughter to get in the car. She was 14 and was freaking out and wanted to stay. I opened the car door and got in the car and watched the two of them argue with each other and thought I can’t die now, they will kill each other. I felt the tingling going down my right arm and then my left. I started to cry and yell to get in the car.
My husband drove me and my daughter to the closest emergency room, unfortunately well known for being a horrible hospital, but I had no choice. On the way, I kept coughing as hard as I could because I had read it helps during a heart attack and asked my hubby to pound on my back, figuring if the coughing helped maybe the pounding would too. They were doing construction at the hospital, so my hubby dropped me off. I walked to the front desk at the ER and told them I was having chest pain and couldn’t breathe. They put me in triage pretty quickly, where the pain continued and I couldn’t catch my breath. The nurse kept telling me I was having a panic attack and I was hyperventilating. I knew I wasn’t. The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t get comfortable in any position. They hooked me up to an ekg and saw nothing. They took me for x-rays and nothing. They asked me for urine but I looked at the nurse like she was nuts, I couldn’t even stand up and she wanted me to pee in a cup. They put me in a bed to wait for more results.
A male nurse, that seemed to be my angel, asked what he could do for me and I told him I was in pain. He came and gave me some morphine, thankfully the pain let up a little. My sister showed up, I guess my step-mother got off the phone long enough to call her. The ER doctor came and said they couldn’t see anything but they would keep me for observation. I was admitted and moved to a room. I sent my sister home and my daughter and hubby back to my step-mother’s since we were an hour away from home.
As I was getting settled into my room, a nurse came in and said I tricked them. I was like how??? The levels in my blood did indicate I was having a HA and they were still rising and I had some arrhythmia. They would move me to CCU and do additional testing and probably catherization.
I was scared, I called my hubby and told him what was going on and they were moving me. The doctor on that floor came in looking concerned and wanted me moved asap. It was kind of nice in CCU, I was by myself in a room and had a view of the NYC skyline. The nurses were great there too and I felt like I was getting better. They did an echo and still saw nothing. More EKGs and more blood work. I was in touch with my boss and seriously said to him, I’ll probably be back in a few days. I remember posting on Facebook saying I may have had a “little heart attack” and my sister got so mad. She was crying, which she never does and said it wasn’t little, stop down playing it.
That’s maybe when I realized I was in denial.
My step-mother called me and started saying this is too close to what happened to your mother, which got me get upset and set my machines off. Hubby had to take her calls after that. Finally they decided to do a chemical stress. They did the first part of the test that made my heart race and took pictures. They said if that came out fine I would not have to do the at rest portion and could go home. They took the pictures and wheeled me to the door to wait for the orderly. They had the pictures on the screen and I could see one picture did not look like the rest. I knew then, that there was a problem and would be back for the 2nd part. When my sister came that day I said I saw something, she said maybe it wasn’t yours, but I knew.
The next day I went back for the 2nd part and was then told they were switching me to a different hospital for catherization. I am overweight so they didn’t want to risk doing a catherization at that hospital. They wanted me to see a special cardiologist there who did many of these procedures a day. On March 13, 2014 an ambulance came to transfer me to Hackensack University Medical Center. My husband and my brother met me at the hospital and I was prepped to wait for the procedure. I remember not feeling nervous, just wanted to get in and get it done. I was brought into the cath lab a little while later and given pain meds. They moved the machine around me and explained they would go through my wrist and if they saw anything they would stent me. I felt the wire going through and it hurt and I said it hurt and they gave me a little more pain meds. I then heard a tech say, “here comes the BMW” and I am normally a smart ass so I said, “but I like Volvos better”. That is the last thing I remember. According to my current cardiologist “all hell broke loose”.
From what I am told, I had another heart attack and blood clots had blocked my LAD. They tried unsuccessfully 3 times to stent me, but they couldn’t. The doctors came out and talked to my husband and brother and told them I needed an emergency bypass. If it wasn’t done, I would just continue to have heart attacks and damage my heart. So, they moved me from the cath lab to the OR, they let my husband and brother talk to me before the surgery. They said I was crying and talking, but I do not remember any of it. As they wheeled me into the OR, I had a third HA.
Next thing I remember is I waking up in the ICU, tubes down my throat and thinking “what the hell happened”? This is not a stent. The nurse stopped me from pulling out the tubes in my throat and talked to me and told me what happened. I was in a haze the next couple of days. I was then moved from ICU to the “heart” wing. I slept in the reclining chair mostly and tried to move myself around. A physical therapist came once but didn’t again so I walked myself. I was released 5 days later.
Coming home and doing the stairs were tough but I did it. I had a nurse come a couple of days a week and my mother in law stayed a week. A week after coming home, I developed an infection in the wound on my chest. I had to go on antibiotics and the surgeon had to cut the dead skin, leaving me with a hole in the middle of my chest that I had to dress and clean with my husband’s help for the next few months. At first, I would cry at the sight of it, but now I wear my scar with pride. It is my proof of overcoming something much bigger than I ever thought I could.
I attended cardiac rehab for about 2 months, wish I could have done the entire program, but I had to get back to work. Work for me was my return to normalcy, now I wonder why I was pushing to come back, LOL.
I still can’t believe this happened without more of a warning. I had hereditary high cholesterol since I was 15, but otherwise I was pretty healthy. Don’t smoke, don’t drink much, and yes my weight probably is not the best, but my doctor’s don’t feel it was the cause. I know my cardiologist wishes he had more info on my mother’s condition as he feels our events are related. I went through a lot of ups and downs and still do. I get anxious sometimes and my sleeping has never been the same. My cardiologist feels I have some PTSD. Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I know I am so lucky that I have this second chance.
My daughter said to me months later that she was mad at her father not letting her be there on cath day, and I asked why? She said ” what happens if it was worse and it couldn’t be fixed? I wouldn’t have had the chance to say good-bye”. I cry every time I think of that. I feel horrible that I had to put her through that and I know I could have been my mother who missed watching her child(ren) grow up.
The bright spot is that this has made my amazing husband and daughter and me so much closer and stronger. I also see that my sister and brother, even though they won’t always say it, would do anything for their baby sister. If it wasn’t for these wonderful people supporting and taking care of me, I don’t think I would have made it through.