Karen’s Story

In her own words: A nurse’s cardiac story

My husband and I both enjoy photography and it has been a dream of ours to photograph Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire during the fall. We were planning a trip to North Carolina for a family gathering and memorial service, and since this trip would be in the fall, we decided to combine both trips.

A few days into the trip, we were on a remote island off the coast of Maine and I began to feel an occasional flutter/heart palpitation. Having no history of heart problems, I ignored it. The next morning I woke up with heart palpitations - one after another for about 30 minutes. I was starting to feel concerned, but we were on an island and really had nowhere to go. It would be hours before our water taxi came to take us back to Portland, Maine.

When my husband woke up, I told him how I was feeling and he told me to run an EKG on my Apple watch. Because he is in healthcare, he was able to read the EKG and sent it to my primary care doctor in Sonora, Jason Jeffrey, MD. After getting off the island, I consulted with Dr. Jeffrey who stressed to me that if the symptoms continued or if I had any other symptoms or pain to immediately get to a hospital.

We spent the next two days hiking and photographing all over Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. At times I felt a little short of breath, but I convinced myself I was a bit out of shape.

On October 12 we played a round of disc golf before catching a flight to Charlotte. Again, I felt short of breath, but I had no pain and the palpitations had left. About an hour into our flight, I felt a very slight tightness in my chest and decided to run another EKG on my watch. When my husband read it, he realized I had significant changes from the previous EKG and I needed to go to the hospital.

My hope was to get an EKG and get on with our trip. Turns out I needed triple bypass surgery.

It was quite a shock! I'm in my late 50s, mostly vegetarian, never smoked, no diabetes, normal blood pressure and get my 10,000 steps in most days. Being a nurse, I knew women can have very different heart symptoms than men, but I was shocked at how mild the symptoms had been. It was easy to make excuses for the symptoms I was experiencing to be caused by anything but my heart.

The past few months have been quite a journey. The Adventist Health Sonora cardiac rehabilitation program has been a huge blessing. Being with others who have been through similar experiences and seeing how they have progressed is reassuring. The cardiac rehabilitation staff are amazing, encouraging, always willing to listen, answer my many questions and provide great educational materials and lectures.

I want to encourage anyone reading this to do what you can to lower your cardiac risk factors and don't ignore even the mildest symptoms. Don't worry if it is an inconvenient time to go to the doctor or hospital. Your life is worth it.

I still have a long way to go, but with the help of God, family, friends and the cardiac rehabilitation program, I have hope to be back to normal life again soon!