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WASHINGTON (Feb 23, 2015) -
Sue Thomas, a former personal trainer, was born into a family with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure and early death, and — at the age of 53 — suffered a near-fatal heart attack.
Thomas, from Woodbridge, Virginia, is being recognized by the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest for her inspirational lifestyle change following her heart attack. She is one of five heart disease patients being recognized for living well with heart disease during 2015 Heart Month.
Sue’s life began to change one day in 2012 when she had a strange feeling in her throat. The sensation that something was stuck in her throat progressed to shortness of breath and being unable to lie flat, to jaw soreness and tingling in her left arm. When she began to feel an excruciating burning pain in her chest, she finally realized she needed to get to the hospital emergency room quickly. There doctors discovered that Thomas’ left anterior descending artery, commonly referred to as the “widow maker,” had two blockages that nearly completely stopped the blood supply to her heart. Physicians at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center implanted two stents to help with her blood flow.
“I was told that my genetics were a factor in my heart health. But in spite of my family history, I thought I was not the typical candidate to suffer from heart disease. I was relatively active, fit, young, and took care of myself,” said Thomas. “Now I know that that it is imperative to always take care of your health and to regularly visit a cardiologist.”
A month after her heart attack, while she was still in cardiac rehabilitation, Thomas again began again to experience shortness of breath and chest pain, especially after exercise. She underwent additional tests and received another stent for an artery that was 50 percent blocked before she was ultimately diagnosed with coronary microvascular disease, which is heart disease that affects the tiny coronary arteries especially in people with high blood pressure.
“When the body is under stress such as during an exercise period, I learned that the heart’s microvessels help push much needed blood and oxygen to our hearts,” said Thomas. “But, because my microvessels were not properly opening, I suffered pain, exhaustion and shortness of breath; all typical symptoms of coronary microvascular disease.”
While Thomas could not control her genetics, she knew that she could control her lifestyle. After the initial heart attack, she began to research heart health and nutrition. She cut her daily intake of fat and sodium, changed to a plant-based, non-dairy diet and lost weight.
“I believe that my plant-based diet not only helped to reverse my coronary artery disease, but after more research, I learned it also helped in healing my heart’s endothelial cells within my microvessels. As a result, I am now rebuilding my physical endurance and my walking distance,” said Thomas. “My second chance at life was gifted with an enormous sense of empowerment, neither of which I will ever take for granted again.”
Thomas then wanted a way to help others in similar. She started a blog called Heart Hungry to share information with other heart attack and coronary microvascular disease survivors.
“Taking control of how I feed my body, managing stress, and maintaining a positive attitude are huge. I might not be able to live the exact life I had before, but I have been given the opportunity to make a different one, a better one,” Thomas said. “I have readjusted my goals and my mental energy and now spend time helping others with heart disease.”
With all the ups and downs, Thomas said her husband has been her No. 1 supporter. “He eats a plant based diet with me, goes through all the recipe testing with me, tells me when to slow down and rest. Most of all, he still loves the new me! He and my entire family encourage and support my new lifestyle.”
CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the American College of Cardiology. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established the “I am CardioSmart” contest to find individuals who were living well with specific heart disease conditions: high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, previous heart attack or coronary artery disease, and showcase their stories to inspire other patients. www.cardiosmart.org, @CardioSmart, www.facebook.com/CardioSmart.
To read more about Sue’s story, visit https://www.cardiosmart.org/Connect/Patient-Stories/Sue-Thomas
Gerry Yumul of Victoria, MN was selected as the overall I am CardioSmart winner through voting on the CardioSmart Facebook page. Read his story on the CardioSmart website.
The American College of Cardiology is a 49,000-member medical society that is the professional home for the entire cardiovascular care team. The mission of the College is to transform cardiovascular care and to improve heart health. The ACC leads in the formation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The College operates national registries to measure and improve care, provides professional medical education, disseminates cardiovascular research and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information, visit www.acc.org.
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