by Jennifer Donelan, Crime Beat Reporter, WJLA TV, Washington, DC
I was 36 years old when I had a sudden coronary artery dissection - or SCAD - which caused me to have a heart attack. Until then I had been convinced that heart attacks only happened to older men, not to people like me. But my heart attack forced me to face my own mortality.
In the weeks that followed, I experienced a lot of fear. What if I had another heart attack and didn’t make it to the hospital in time? I was surrounded by family, friends, co-workers, doctors, and even people who didn’t know me but had heard of my situation on television and generously offered their support. But I still felt alone in dealing with my new post-heart attack reality.
Several weeks after I had returned home from the hospital, I remembered the advice of a visiting cardiologist who had suggested that I visit www.womenheart.org. I checked out the website, then picked up the phone and called. The employee I spoke with listened to my story, then recommended that I join WomenHeart’s SisterMatch program.
WomenHeart’s SisterMatch program is a peer-to-peer support opportunity for women living with heart disease where they are connected with a trained WomenHeart Champion volunteer who is also a heart disease survivor and who provides support over the phone, via email, and/or in person. I decided to try it out. I was given the phone number of a WomenHeart Champion named Carrie who, like me, had had a heart attack in her 30s.
My call with Carrie instantly changed the trajectory of my recovery. Carrie understood where I had been and what I was about to go through on the road to recovery. As I talked to Carrie, the feeling of isolation I had been experiencing since my heart attack went away for the first time.
Carrie spoke my language. We talked about everything! Work, cardiac rehab, the fear of another heart attack, physical limitations, relationships, and the list goes on! As a result, I began adjusting to my new normal, and I finally began the process of healing emotionally from my heart attack.
Read part 3 of Jennifer Donelan’s story!