HEART TO HEART SHARES FOUR WOMEN'S INSIGHTS ABOUT SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE THROUGH HEART ATTACK RECOVERY, SURVIVING HEART DISEASE AND THE REALIZATION THAT MANAGING HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT.
Sometimes, it seems like everything happens at once. This certainly holds true for Jennifer Petty. A wife and mother of a busy 16-yearold, Jennifer turned 50, left a 15-year career for a new venture and began a massive kitchen remodel. Her career change involved a switch from serving as an executive sales consultant for Bayer HealthCare’s radiology business unit to Bayer’s cardiology unit. And as is true for most sales professionals, travel is a big part of her job. “There was a lot of stress with the change,” recalls Jennifer. “It was like starting over at age 50.”
Jennifer is quick to give her husband Chris a lot of credit for supporting her decision to change jobs. “He is my rock. Chris has always been such a strong supportive husband and father,” she says.
About two weeks after beginning her new role with Bayer, Jennifer was on a conference call at home when Chris came into the room. “Chris had been complaining about indigestion for a couple of days and told me he was going to call the doctor,” Jennifer recalls.
Later, Chris told Jennifer he was in excruciating pain. He called the doctor again and, while Jennifer was still on her conference call, Chris told her he was going to WakeMed North.
Fast forward two hours and Jennifer is putting chicken on the grill when the phone rings. “Jennifer, you’re not going to believe this. I had a heart attack,” said Chris, who was calling from WakeMed. “I immediately felt guilt,” says Jennifer. I was consumed with work and feeding my teenage son, who seems like he has to eat every two hours. At the same time, I was petrified. ‘What if Chris dies?’ I thought.” She described the situation as completely surreal and unbelievable for a man who is physically fit, avoids red meat and eats a healthy diet.
Jennifer called her son and gave him instructions about securing the grill then hurried to WakeMed. “I felt so guilty that I hadn’t gone with Chris to the ER,” Jennifer repeats.
Feelings of guilt are very common among caregivers of heart patients. They often feel like “they should have seen it coming” or if they had done something differently, the heart attack would not have occurred.
Testing revealed two severely blocked arteries. Islam Othman, MD, an interventional cardiologist with WakeMed Heart & Vascular Physicians, placed stents in one of the arteries but held off on the procedure to stent the other artery. “He wanted Chris’ body to rest and recover a bit, so he scheduled Chris for a second, non-emergent procedure in a few weeks,” explains Jennifer.
With her recent shift to Bayer’s cardiology business unit, Jennifer had some basic knowledge about the cardiovascular system and what was happening to her husband. “I feel like I played 20 questions with Dr. Othman; I asked him so many questions. He was tremendous and explained everything so well,” she recalls.
Once Chris returned home before his second procedure, Jennifer quickly learned what he needed the most: Reassurance. “He was afraid and rightly so,” says Jennifer. “It was like someone pulled the rug right out from under our feet.”
“Anxiety, specifically the fear of having another heart attack, is extremely common among patients who have had a serious cardiac event,” explains Dr. Othman. “We find that many patients find peace of mind in learning all they can about their condition as well as healthy habits. That’s where patient education and cardiac rehab come into play.”
While in the hospital after his second procedure, Chris received a visit from Marian Uy, RN, who encouraged him to join the WakeMed Cardiac Rehabilitation program. “Chris was one of the younger people in the Cardiac Rehab program. We thought maybe he would go to about two sessions and then do his own thing,” says Jennifer.
What Jennifer and Chris didn’t realize was how much support and empowerment Chris would receive from the program.
“Chris completed the whole WakeMed Cardiac Rehab program,” says Jennifer. “He participated in the supervised exercise sessions, lectures and cooking classes. It was empowering for him.”
In addition, members of the Cardiac Rehab team reassured Chris that he would be all right. “Lynn, Terri, Amy and Beth were genuinely concerned about his well-being,” notes Jennifer. “Chris even received phone calls at home from the Cardiac Rehab team to check on how he was feeling.”
Jennifer did her part as well and she continues to learn new ways to provide Chris with the reassurance and encouragement he needs. She has updated the family’s already healthy diet to organic and has significantly reduced the amount of fats, sugar and processed foods they consume.
Most importantly, Jennifer offers the following advice to those who are caring for a loved one after a heart attack. “Let them talk and really listen to what they’re saying,” she says. “Know your priorities and do your best to keep them straight. Sometimes things like work or a project creep up in the queue. Work to keep the balance, knowing that family and health should come first. It is important to ask questions about your loved one’s clinical well-being. Physicians are willing to clarify terms for you. Knowledge about the process can reduce stress for the patient as well as the caregiver. Finally, encourage your loved one to fully embrace the Cardiac Rehab program from beginning to end.”