Tales from a heart attack survivor

–by Mary Helen Darah

Kelly Parker, a heart attack survivor, believes her life is now defined as ‘before’ and ‘after’ her traumatic cardiac experience.

Kelly Parker, a heart attack survivor, believes her life is now defined as “before” and “after” her traumatic cardiac experience. “In some ways, I love the ‘after’ more,” stated Parker. “I have certainly grown. I’m not the same person I used to be.”
At the time of her heart attack, Parker was an active 40-year-old entrepreneur who owned her own cleaning business. She was also a smoker, which she adamantly states she will never do again. “Many people equate smoking with cancer but it also takes a huge toll on your heart,” she said. “There were warning signs leading up to my heart attack. I got winded going up the stairs. I had arm pain. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I made up excuses for all my symptoms. My mom is the one who told me to go see a cardiologist. I finally went to Dr. Daniel Cassavar, who, by the way, is wonderful. I told him my symptoms and family history and he wanted to do a stress test right then and there. I told him ‘no’. I was too busy and I wanted to schedule it for another time. As I was leaving, he opened the door and said, ‘You do understand that you are walking out of my office without a stress test against my better judgment?’”
Parker scheduled her stress test for July 15. She had a heart attack on July 11. “Fortunately, I had the classic symptoms that a man would have,” she recalled. “I had it all; the nausea, the back pain and arm pain. I went to feel for my pulse and I couldn’t find it. At the time, I was married so I woke up my husband. He looked at me and knew something was wrong. I then bent over and grabbed my chest. He picked up the phone and called 911. Paramedics came and gave me an IV and nitro. They couldn’t find a pulse or blood pressure. I was 90 percent occluded in the upper LAD (left anterior descending), which is known as the “widow maker.” They used a stint to open me up. I was very fortunate.”
In November of 2010, Parker began to experience fatigue again. She returned to her physician and discovered she had issues with her stint. Attempts at treating her with medication failed. In 2011 she had bypass surgery. “I didn’t cry about it until the morning of the surgery when I saw my mom,” recalled Parker. “Dr. Christopher Riordan performed my surgery on a Thursday and I went home on a Sunday but later I was in and out of the hospital after the bypass for everything from pleurisy to having my gallbladder removed. It was especially difficult to deal with not only physically but mentally.”
Parker said she experienced an attitude change after spending a day with her mother. “My mom and I were heading to a motorcycle rally in Cleveland and it started raining really hard,” recalled Parker. “My mom pulled over because she thought I was crying. I told her that I was laughing, not crying. At that moment, I had an epiphany. I just knew everything was going to be OK and realized that I’m not a victim of heart disease but a survivor of it. I could have sat on the couch these past years and let it consume me but I didn’t. Life is a gift. I have the best life. I volunteer with the American Heart Association and for my cardiologist’s office. I do everything from handing out information to telling my story in front of 600 people. Also, I am always willing to talk about my experience with someone going through the journey and giving them hope. Some people ask me how I can be so happy. How can I not be? I have three beautiful grandchildren to enjoy, a supportive family and wonderful friends, some who have been with me from the beginning and others I met through this journey. At times, life can get a bit ‘bumpy’ but you push on through and enjoy the ride.”

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