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February is Go Red for Heart Health: Mom’s Silent Heart Attack

Adela Crandell Durkee’s mother had a silent heart attack. Adela is sharing her mother’s story for American Heart Health Month – Go Red. Read more from Adela on her blog, The Black Tortoise


Fourteen years ago, Dr. P diagnosed Dad with liver cancer.  Sometime in the next six months, the six months we had before we said goodbye, Mom told Dr. P she had chest pains.

“It’s probably just stress,” he told her, his kind brown eyes reassuring her.

I could have lost both my parents that year.  But no one knew just how strong Mom really was.

“I walk to the mailbox, and I’m just fine,” she told me.  “But when I turn around to come home, my chest hurts.  I walk over to the neighbors’ with no problem, but when I come back, I can hardly breathe.”

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It sounds like a broken heart, avoiding an empty house.  Dad was the love of her life.  Until death do us part was the truth they both knew.

A family full of people in the health care professions:  three nurses, a pharmacist, a physical therapist, and a regulatory affairs professional, we finally talk Mom into seeing Dr. P again.  He schedules an angiogram.

By the time she and he schedule the test, Mom feels better.  She almost cancels. But…

She doesn’t because her children are waiting in the wings: to transport her, to wait for her, to hold her hand, to listen to the results.  She doesn’t want to let us down. Mom’s artery is so blocked the test cannot be completed, nor can an angioplasty be done to clear the blockage.

“The good news is that you created your own by-pass,” says Dr. Heart, the specialist who explains the results.  “No need for further treatment.”

“Looks like you have work left here on Earth,” I tell Mom.  She rolls her eyes.  She misses Dad.

Mom joins the Senior Center, plays pinochle, and begins to play the drums in the community band.  She never played the drums before, but she did play violin when she was a girl.

Silent heart attacks are more frequent in women than men.  Doctors are more likely to chalk them up to anxiety; Dr. P knew Mom and Dad for years. Losing Mom’s life partner of more than 50 years, is one of the most stressful events she ever experienced. Dad was more than a partner.  He was the love of her life and her best friend.

Women are more likely to dismiss the symptoms of a heart attack.  According to Go Red for Women:

“People who have these so-called silent heart attacks are more likely to have non-specific and subtle symptoms, such as indigestion or a case of the flu, or they may think that they strained a muscle in their chest or their upper back. It also may not be discomfort in the chest, it may be in the jaw or the upper back or arms,” she says. “Some folks have prolonged and excessive fatigue that is unexplained. Those are some of the less specific symptoms for a heart attack, but ones that people may ignore or attribute to something else.”

Ten years later, in April, Mom has by-pass surgery.  She prepares us all in case she doesn’t pull through.  She still misses Dad and she will be happy to be with him again.

By July she attends our annual camp-out, and climbed the sand-dunes with some of her great-grandchildren.

She wants to get the most out of that expensive surgery.  As my brother tells her, “Dr. Heart corrected 20 years of damage. Looks like you’ll better plan for another 20 years.”

She hopes so, she just had a knee replaced and she wants to get her money’s worth.

Adela Crandell Durkee

I come from a family of storytellers. Being a little more introverted, I put pen to paper. First published at the age of seven, I have a few small pieces published and yearn for more. I live in Illinois with my husband George. Within driving distance are my four children and bonus sons and daughters through marriages. I have my fourteen grandchildren and two cats to keep me hopping after a full days work as a freelance writer for two local newspapers and whoever else needs me. Add my vegetable and water garden in the backyard, and you could say, "I have it all!" Also blogging at Once A Little Girl and The Black Tortoise . Instagram: geodeli

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