For Tina McCoy Hearn, heart problems now seem like such an obvious explanation for the chest pains she’d have after working outdoors.
But back in her early 40s, Tina didn’t really consider her heart. She was active, and her health seemed good. Like many women, she simply ignored the warning signs for several years until one particular day while out working in the yard.
“I was mowing the lawn and the pain in my chest was quite severe,” she says. “I had to stop what I was doing. I knew something wasn’t right.”
Tina told her doctor, and within days she was scheduled for a cardiac catheterization. The procedure revealed she had severe blockage in her heart valves.
Tina had heart disease. She was 46 years old.
“They were quite adamant that I not leave the hospital, and I was scheduled for bypass surgery,” she says. “It was very scary—one of the longest weekends of my life.”
Tina actually underwent two separate open-heart surgeries. Weeks into her recovery, however, she was still experiencing pain and learned that none of the bypasses had “worked.”
“The hardest part was I felt no sense of hope,” she says. “I felt like I could die at any moment.”
Tina was encouraged to take part in CHAMPS (Cardiovascular Health, Assessment, Management, and Prevention Service), a cardiac rehabilitation program through University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center. She admits she was resistant at first, but “the more I got into it, I realized that something was still within my control.”
By becoming more informed about heart disease and her options for making heart-healthy lifestyle choices, Tina began to reclaim her health and her life. In addition to her rehab, she began a non-invasive treatment called EECP (enhanced external counterpulsation), designed to reduce her heart’s workload while increasing the amount of oxygen-rich blood reaching the heart. With the support of family and friends and a regained positive outlook and attitude, Tina has renewed energy and strength to live her best life.
“I started doing a lot more research on diet and the benefits of exercise,” she says, “and the effects of what I call the ‘happiness level’—counting your blessings and having gratitude.”
Tina says she struggles at times to discuss her heart disease because for a long time after her diagnosis she felt both ashamed and guilty.
“They tell you that heart disease is preventable. Given my age and everything, I started to feel like it was somehow my fault,” she says. “But it’s also hereditary. Once I really understood that, I began to feel less like I caused all this myself.”
Overcoming the stigma of illness is one message Tina wants other women with heart disease to remember. She also emphasizes “don’t be afraid” to talk to a doctor about heart symptoms and be an advocate for one’s health.
Today, at age 51, Tina can reflect on her past health challenges and see the progress she’s made physically, but also mentally and emotionally.
“I’m always finding the beauty in the day and what makes life really wonderful to be a part of,” she says. “I still feel incredibly vulnerable at times, but there’s strength in that, too.”
University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center is the proud Eastern Iowa sponsor of the American Heart Association.