I don’t want to bore readers with the blah, blah, blah of who I am and why I write. Suffice it to say, and please excuse the double negative, I can’t not write. It’s in my DNA, ingrained as solidly as my hazel eyes. I also read voraciously, quilt pervasively, exercise religiously, and eat healthfully. In spite of my healthy lifestyle, I have heart issues. So, rather than talk about my books and my hunky heroes (…brief pause to still my racing heart…), I’d like to share a feature article the Asheville Citizen-Times did with me about women and heart disease, in the hope that other women will take heed.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Were you always active/healthy, working out, etc., and never thought you had any reason to worry about heart problems? Is that what women typically think – that it’s a man’s disease?
Susan Blexrud: No, I didn’t think heart problems were gender related, not in today’s world where women’s work is as stressful as men’s. And I’d always had stressful jobs. As spokesperson for the City of Orlando, I was on call 24/7, but I thought that by taking care of myself (eating right and exercising), I could assuage the stress. I was wrong.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Had your doctor never addressed your racing heart? Did he/she attribute it to stress?
Susan Blexrud: Truthfully, I’d been ignoring the symptoms, chalking my racing heart up to menopause and stress. I didn’t think there was anything physically wrong with me. The week before I passed out at the YMCA, I told myself that I should probably make an appointment with a cardiologist just to make sure everything was all right. I’d fully expected that all the doctor would tell me was, “SLOW DOWN!”
Asheville Citizen-Times: Depending on that answer, does your experience make you think physicians aren’t as plugged into women’s heart health as they might be?
Susan Blexrud: No doctors to blame here.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Do you remember your thoughts when you got your diagnosis? (What’s it actually called, by the way?)
Susan Blexrud: My first thought was, “Geez, I never heard of that.” It was described to me as “excess electrical tissue” that was making my heart race, and though many people with this problem can control the palpitations with medication (beta blockers, etc.), mine was so severe that it required treatment.
Asheville Citizen-Times: What was your treatment? And you said you’re still on a daily beta blocker?
Susan Blexrud: I had an electrophysiological study with oblation, which is a cardiac catheterization-type procedure. To put it in laymen terms, the doctor makes small incisions in the femoral (groin) and carotid (neck) arteries, and then snakes wires to the heart. Once at the heart, the excess tissue is cauterized. My cardiologist said he stopped the oblation at the point where I would have needed a pacemaker, so I still take a daily beta blocker to keep my heart rhythm steady.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Has this experience prompted any lifestyle changes? Sounds like you were already doing the right things – what more is there to do?
Susan Blexrud: Yes, I was already living a healthy lifestyle, but I have greatly reduced the stress in my life. I was a workaholic, no doubt about it.
Asheville Citizen-Times: What advice would you give other women, in terms of paying attention to things that just don’t seem quite right, being more assertive with doctors, insisting on follow-up tests, etc.
Susan Blexrud: Listen to your body. My racing heart was a warning sign, and I ignored it. I was lucky in that I passed out in the showers at the YMCA rather than driving a car on a highway and endangering not just myself, but anyone in my path.
Asheville Citizen-Times: Finally, anything else I haven’t asked that you think it’s important for women to understand/act on.
Susan Blexrud: I’m going to sound like Sally Field on the Boniva commercial, but here goes: You’ve got ONE life and ONE body. This isn’t a trial run. Take care of yourself.
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