Most people don't know the warning signs of an impending heart attack or stroke.
They ignore the signs, chalking it up to stress or indigestion, until it's too late.
"One of the things I noticed was that people ignored the signs," said Carole Fallon, a retired nurse who had a heart attack at the age of 53. "If you get there (to the hospital) soon enough, you can survive."
Heart attack survivor and Sanibel resident Carole Fallon poses with her family on the island in 2011. From left to right are Anna Sasso, Melanie Fallon, Leo Fallon and Carole Fallon. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Fallon, whose father died of a heart attack at 72, said she knew about her own family's history of high blood pressure but didn't do anything to prevent her own heart attack.
"I knew all about this, but I still didn't get enough sleep, eat well, or exercise," she said.
Fallon is now working with other heart attack survivors and health advocates to organize Sanibel Island's first ever Heart, Stroke & Wellness Walk, in conjunction with the American Heart Association. Fort Myers has hosted the walk for years, with a high number of attendees, but now islanders are trying to start their own event.
Sanibel resident Carole Fallon shares her heart attack survival story
By CAROLE FALLON
On a muggy Fourth of July in 1997, I had a heart attack. I was 53.
I was a passenger in our car en route to Toronto where my husband Michael had taken a two-year job assignment. We had travelled from Pennsylvania and were just 28 kilometers from Toronto when it felt like a wrecking ball hit me in the center of my chest.
As an RN, I recognized the symptoms. Within seconds, it spread to my left arm and jaw. When I told Michael, who was concentrating on an unfamiliar and busy highway, he remarked it was probably indigestion.
I clutched his arm as I began to have trouble breathing. Seeing my ashen face and the beads of perspiration on my lip he asked, "Are you having a heart attack?" He immediately began crossing lanes and veered toward the exit where he could see hospital sign.
A police station was the first sign of possible help and the staff called an ambulance. I was given oxygen although I was only vaguely aware of something on my face. I was aware of people speaking to me but their voices were far away and I was unable to respond.
Fortunately, Mississauga Hospital had a new nine bed cardiac intensive care unit. I was given a drug called tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, which dissolved the clot, preventing further heart damage.
An angiogram revealed I had four blockages in the left anterior descending artery, a condition sometimes nicknamed the "widow maker." I was diagnosed with single coronary artery disease and as a woman given a poor prognosis. I was released after four days, and put on a cardiac medicine regime to await intervention or surgery.
I had been to the emergency room in Philadelphia just a few weeks prior to going to Canada, complaining of shortness of breath and fluttering in my chest. The tests were inconclusive so I was told I had a high stress job, I was anxious and needed to lose a few pounds. I have a family history on both sides of heart disease and attacks. My father had a heart attack at 53.
Now 16 years later at age 69, I am without stents, never had a bypass and I am medically managed and symptom free. Changing my lifestyle by eating right, exercising and learning ways of coping with stress have worked for me. I do have regular cardiac checkups and monitor my cholesterol.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. Education and research can change this statistic. Please support the American Heart Association's lifesaving efforts by being a donor and/or walker on Sunday, Feb. 9, as we hold the First Annual Sanibel/Captiva Heart, Stroke & Wellness Walk at Bailey's Center.
For more information, visit sanibelcaptivaheartwalk.kintera.org
What: First Annual Sanibel/Captiva Heart, Stroke & Wellness Walk
When: Festivities begin at 1 p.m., and the non-competitive, family-friendly 3.1-mile walk begins at 2 p.m., rain or shine.
Where: Bailey's Center, 2477 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel Island.
Why: Heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 4 killers of all Americans, respectively. The wellness walk will raise awareness for the American Heart Association's heart disease and stroke prevention efforts, as well as raise funds for lifesaving research, education and advocacy.
Details: Your $50 donation includes a t-shirt. Visit sanibelcaptivaheartwalk.kintera.org or contact Molly Spain, Lee County Heart Walk Director, at 495-4901 or email Molly.Spain@heart.org. The Heart Walk is sponsored nationally by Subway Restaurants and Jenny Craig.
Sandy Teger, an organizer on the steering committee, lost both her father and grandfather to heart disease. Her daughter was also diagnosed with congenital heart failure in her mid-40's and underwent open heart surgery. Friends who knew her daughter couldn't believe someone so fit could have heart problems.
After moving to the island, Teger inquired about local heart walks but found out that most people went to Fort Myers to lend their support.
"I was thinking it's hard to get people from Sanibel to appear at 8 a.m. in Centennial Park," she said, explaining why she joined the island's steering committee. "We want something to represent us."
For both women, the walk is a chance to educate the public about the signs of a heart attack or stroke, and how to lead an overall healthy life, especially for women who often present the symptoms differently than men. Besides the typical chest pain and numbness, the signs can also present in women as upper back pain or flu-like symptoms.
They also want to spread the message that heart disease impacts women just as much as it does men.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke are the No. 1 and No. 4 causes of death for all Americans. They are so common that recent statistics point to the fact that there is a heart attack occurring every 34 seconds in the United States.
The inaugural walk is on Sunday, Feb. 9 at Bailey's on 2477 Periwinkle Way. Festivities begin at 1 p.m. and the non-competitive, family-friendly 5K begins at 2 p.m., rain or shine.
Not only will the walk raise awareness for the community but it will also raise funds for lifesaving research, education, and advocacy with the American Heart Association.
Sponsorships are still available with several options for those interested. Islanders can register for the walk by visiting sanibelcaptivaheartwalk.kintera.org. A $50 donation is encouraged to participate in the walk.
For more information, contact Lee County Walk Director Molly Spain at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (251) 648-2122.