BY LYNN EDMONDS
Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Yet many women ignore the impending signs of a heart problem because they think that heart disease is a men’s disease or they are so busy with work or caring for others that they don’t take the necessary time to address their own health issues. That is what experts said at a “National Wear Red Day” celebration on Feb. 5 at North Shore University Hospital, co-sponsored by Northwell Health and the American Heart Association.
That was the case with Christine Budwha Giles, 37, of Queens Village. Though she did take the time out of her busy schedule to go to the doctor, the mother of two had no idea that the symptoms she was presenting with were signs of heart failure.
In February 2015, Giles had recently given birth to a healthy young girl, Anna. She was in her first week back on the job as a contracts attorney with the Metropolitan Transit Authority after taking maternity leave when she began experiencing telltale symptoms.
But for a week, Giles thought she just had a cold.
“I went back to work, and a few days later my ankles started swelling. Didn’t think anything of it. Just figured that that was just one of those weird things that happened after pregnancy where my body is getting back used to going back to work and day to day life. It was my first week back, and by Friday I just couldn’t breathe anymore,” Giles said in a video interview with Northwell Health.
When she finally went to the doctor and requested antibiotics for the flu that she thought she had, the doctor took one look at her face, informed her that it was blue, and called 911.
Giles was transported to North Shore University Hospital, where she was treated in the intensive care unit. She was diagnosed with severe heart failure, a condition that can occur up to six months after childbirth.
Dr. Evelina Grayver, Director of the Coronary Care Unit at NSUH and one of the physicians who treated Giles, explained that it was common for women to miss the symptoms of heart failure.
“She’ll think of anything and everything but her heart and that is the epitome of the ‘go red’ [awareness campaign]. It is truly to make women aware of the fact that it could definitely be their heart,” Grayver said.
While chest pressure is the most common symptom of heart attack in women like it is in men, women are most likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain as symptoms as well, according to heart.org. Pain or discomfort in one of both arms is also a symptom of heart attack.
Dr. Stacey Rosen from the Katz Institute for Women’s Health also spoke at the “go red” celebration. She stressed that though heart disease is a very real threat for women are steps women can take to mitigate their risk of suffering from it.
“Women should know that heart disease is the number one killer of women,” Rosen said. “But that’s the bad news. The good news is that 80 percent of it is preventable.”
The doctor went on to explain how women could improve their heart health.
“You want to find out what your risks are, because all of us have one. So see a physician, know your numbers, as we say; your blood pressure, your blood sugar, your cholesterol panel. Take a look at your lifestyle. Do you eat well, do you get enough sleep? Do you do things every day to de-stress, to laugh a bit? These are the things that are good ways to start, starting your journey to heart health,” Rosen said.
After Giles began receiving treatment and got out of the hospital, her journey toward recovery began.
For the first six months, she took medication and wore a 10-pound external life vest defibrillator 23 hours a day to protect against an irregular heart beat that could be fatal.
But with that heavy, bulky vest, she was not able to pick up her daughter. The vest was also very uncomfortable and hot in the summer. Doctors said that Giles was a good candidate for a high-tech, wireless defibrillator, known as a SubQ, which protects her from cardiac arrest. She underwent surgery to implant the device, which is under the skin but does not penetrate the organs or blood vessels, in September. Since then, she has been able to return to a more active lifestyle.
Currently, she practices yoga, walks, and enjoys a full family life.
“A year later, to feel healthy again, and to have my energy back, and to be able to play with my son play with my daughter, being here with my husband, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Giles said.
“‘Go red’ means survival and health, and just life. Celebration of life,” she added.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana