Champion Spotlight: Yesenia Araujo, “New York Strong”

“I had three heart attacks in one day,” Yesenia Araujo says. The first, she explains, happened at her home, where her boyfriend called an ambulance to rush her to the hospital because she was vomiting, fatigued and experiencing shortness of breath—though at the time they did not realize she was having a heart attack. Yesenia suffers from asthma and while she knew this shortness of breath didn’t feel like her usual asthma, her past history was on both her and her doctor’s mind, distracting from the real problem at hand.

When Yesenia arrived at the hospital via ambulance she says she experienced a second heart attack. From there she was rushed to another hospital, where the medical professionals finally realized Yesenia was having a heart attack. It was December 13, 2013. She was 43 years old.

“I was having a heart attack right in their faces while they were doing a sonogram,” Yesenia recalls. “That whole day I felt like no one really believed me. I didn’t know how to express myself. I kept telling them I couldn’t breathe. But the vomiting is what I remember the most.”

Yesenia, a New York native, the daughter of Dominican immigrants, grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and enjoyed running along the Hudson River. A self-described yogi and a lover of mud runs who used to work at a local gym, she explains that she never thought this would happen to her. Though, she adds, he father had died of heart disease years earlier. But, Yesenia, explains, she was a single mother at that time and taking care of her daughter was a bigger concern than worrying about what he father’s heart disease could mean for the future of her own health.

After her heart attacks Yesenia spent about a month in cardiac rehab. But even after finishing cardio rehab, she felt frustrated and depressed. “I was devastated and it was harder than I expected because this is an organ that I had no control over,” Yesenia explained. “I was deeply depressed and didn’t find help until my new cardiologist asked if I’d be interested in a support group for women like me, and I said yes.”

And that support group was WomenHeart’s peer-to-peer support network, SisterMatch, which connected her to other women with similar experiences, providing a sense of renewed strength, understanding and community. She went on to become a WomenHeart Champion, attending the Science & Leadership Symposium at the Mayo Clinic and working to further support and engage with other women living with heart disease.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “a percentage of people with no history of depression become depressed after a heart attack or after developing heart failure. And people with depression but no previously detected heart disease, seem to develop heart disease at a higher rate than the general population.” Depression or anxiety may often follow a heart disease diagnosis along with feelings of shock, fear, and a sense of having lost control.

Now, over four years after her heart attack, Yesenia has come a long way from the depression she suffered in the aftermath of her heart attacks.

I live in New York. Anything can happen at any moment. You can’t let yourself worry all the time,

Yesenia, with the resilience that New Yorkers are known for

She still lives an active lifestyle, though she is more conscious of not pushing herself too hard. She works out six days a week and still enjoys running along the Hudson River from her new home in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen—sometimes all the way down to the Freedom Tower, which is about 4 miles.

And, with that same plucky native New York resolve Yesenia adds that her best advice to other women would be to advocate for yourself in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to your health. You know your own body. “Advocate for yourself. Speak your mind.”

If you or a woman you know is suffering from feelings of depression after a heart attack or are just looking to find out more information, visit WomenHeart.org and check-out our SisterMatch program or HeartSisters Online to be connected to someone who’s been there and just gets it.

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