Written by heart attack survivor Susan Cardelli:
Just last week was the 10th Anniversary of my heart attack---January 25, 2001---or as the medical community would call it "A Cardiac Event". Whenever I hear it referred to as a "cardiac event", I always picture myself walking down the red carpet, dressed in a sequined hospital gown, pulling an IV cart, while waving at the paparazzi.
As we all know, having a heart attack, open heart surgery, or any heart procedure is anything but glamorous. It is frightening, lonely, painful, and life-altering. It is also isolating and causes most of us to suffer from depression. The media, people around us, and some medical professionals cluck their tongues and blame us, the patients, for having heart disease. We should've exercised more, ate more whole grain Cheerios, had less stress, lost weight, etc. What is worse is that WE blame ourselves!
For too long I beat myself up and blamed myself. This only kept me depressed, not caring about whether I lived or not, despite the fact that my cardiologist told me over and over again that the reason I had my heart attack at age 41 was due to heredity. It finally dawned on me that it was not about "fault" or "blame", but about acceptance of what is. I had to get to a place of learning to love myself before I could take any steps towards taking care of myself.
I believe what the medical community and society in general needs to focus on is not what exercises or diets or medicines we need---but first, how we feel about what happened to us, how we feel about ourselves, and how to move forward in lives that have been forever changed.
Joining WomenHeart in 2001, just a few weeks after my heart attack, has been a major reason why I am still here. WomenHeart Co-founder Nancy Loving called me and talked with me for a long time. She made me realize that I was not alone and that there were others who had also been misdiagnosed and under treated. It was great talking with someone who totally understood. Then, in October of 2002, I attended the first ever Science and Leadership Symposium for Women with Heart Disease at the Mayo Clinic. That is when I made amazing connections, and the real healing began.
There were many tears shed throughout the symposium. These tears were of relief and joy that, yes, we were truly not alone in this. We were finally being heard and validated. We all became family instantaneously. Even though we were all from different parts of the country and different ages, lifestyles, ethnicities and beliefs---having the shared experience of heart disease brought us together.
I am still so amazed and proud of what our WomenHeart Sisters Class of 2002 have accomplished in the last 10 years! When we started going out there, no one knew that heart disease was the #1 killer of women. All they saw were pink ribbons on yogurt. Today, almost everyone has seen a red dress on some product or ad. We started that. Imagine how many lives we have all saved…
A special thanks to all my WomenHeart sisters for having the courage to go out there and educate other women and medical professionals that yes, it is not just a woman's heart that is important; but the heart of a woman as well.