Tuesday 20 March 2018

'I lost weight, ate well and exercised, but still had a heart attack'

Busy women these days never give their heart a second thought, but as Suzanne Domican found out, it can be a very dangerous oversight

Suzanne Domican was shocked to discover she suffers from a heart condition. Photo: Damien Eagers
Suzanne Domican was shocked to discover she suffers from a heart condition. Photo: Damien Eagers

Arlene Harris

When Suzanne Domican lost four stone in 2013, she was on top of the world. As well as feeling considerably lighter, she also felt as if she had rolled back the years - feeling reborn, revitalised and ready to begin a new chapter of her life.

But out-the-blue, she collapsed, fell into a coma and when she came around two days later, was shocked to discover that she had suffered a cardiac arrest.

The Dublin woman is just one of the thousands of females across the country that develops heart disease or suffers from sudden cardiac arrests each year. And for the month of September, the Irish Heart Foundation is running their annual Heart Month to raise awareness of the need to look after our most vital organ.

The emphasis of their campaign will be aimed at women, who, like Suzanne, never give their heart a second thought as they are so busy running their lives.

"My life is very full - I have a 12-year-old son to look after and I have a job which takes up a lot of my time, so, like most people, I was busy getting on with things," she says.

"I never thought I had a problem with my heart - I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I get plenty of exercise and had lost loads of weight a couple of years ago - so I felt perfectly healthy, particularly after losing 4 stone in 7 months from August 2013.

"Naturally I was delighted with myself and on March 19, 2014, I popped into my slimming class to have a weigh-in, was chatting away to the consultant when suddenly I said I didn't feel great and the next thing I knew it was two days later and I was waking up in a bed in the Mater Hospital."

Luckily for Suzanne, there was a nurse visiting the class that day and while others called an ambulance, she set to work on her immediately with a defibrillator.

"I don't remember anything of the incident but apparently I hit the ground moments after getting on the scales and a nurse grabbed the defibrillator while waiting for the paramedics," she says. "My family told me that when I had arrived at the hospital, the doctors were so worried about me, that there was talk of a priest being called.

"But then I came around a couple of days later and was fitted with an ICD - which is like a pacemaker that gives your heart a jolt if it starts having an irregular beat. I was also put on cholesterol pills, beta blockers and other medication, so I was very lucky to be alive."

This may be true, but for someone who felt full of health and vitality, Suzanne has no idea why her heart failed the way it did.

"There is no history of any heart problems in my family and after my cardiac arrest, all my close relatives were tested and everyone is fine," she says. "I had an MRI and an angiogram and this revealed that I had a small scar on my heart which doctors said was from a minor heart attack I had in the past. I had no idea that this had happened and looking back the only slight symptoms I can think of is that I had pins and needles in my arms, but I didn't think anything of it as I had no pain or anything.

"The doctors at the hospital said if I hadn't lost all the weight, I would probably not have survived. Mind you, they also said that losing the weight so quickly may have triggered something as it could have been a bit of a shock to my system - but no-one is really sure."

Whatever the reason behind her cardiac arrest, Suzanne has been left shaken and nervous about her health and urges people to be aware of any unusual symptoms and to do their utmost to look after their hearts.

"I am on medication now and have regular check-ups but even though my cardiologist said I am in a safer position than most, I still feel very anxious about my health," she admits. "I went for rehabilitation in Eccles Street which helped a lot as I did some vigorous exercise on the treadmill and on the bike and was able to see that my heart was coping fine - but I still feel nervous and would be worried about doing anything too strenuous if I was on my own.

"The fact that my heart let me down when I had no idea there was a problem is scary, particularly as my son, Dylan, relies on me so much and he was the first person I saw when I came around, so I would hate to put him through anything like that again.

"I am very careful about what I eat, I avoid junk food, eat a lot of vegetables and fruit and do a fair bit of walking because I don't want this to happen again. So I would say to anyone who has a bad diet, a bit of weight to lose or is a smoker or drinker, to think about what you are doing and make a few changes to help your chances of having a healthy heart - I thought I was doing great and was caught unawares, so don't put yourself in a risky position."

Despite feeling somewhat nervous about her heart condition, Suzanne is determined to live life to the full from now on and is grateful that she was treated so quickly and given another lease of life.

"I consider myself so lucky to be here today," she says. "Of course, my heart is a constant worry, but I try to put it aside and concentrate on the positive things, which include the fact that I have been given a second chance. It is like winning the lottery, only better, as I really appreciate everything I have and am going to do my absolute best to stay in good shape, try not to worry too much, live life to the full and look forward to the future."

To mark the Irish Heart Foundation's #RedAlert to women this September, download their FREE 'women and heart' magazine on www.irishheart.ie or call 1850 364 364

Red alert

Dr Angie Brown, Medical Director of the Irish Heart Foundation, says most women think they are going to die of breast cancer when in fact they are six times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

"That's why this September the Irish Heart Foundation is issuing a Red Alert to the women of Ireland to know their risk of heart disease and stroke so they can take positive steps to prevent it," she says.

"The good news is that heart disease and stroke doesn't happen overnight and by keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol - getting them checked regularly from the age of 30, as well as not smoking, eating well and being active, you can keep risk factors at bay."

Just the facts

•Cardiovascular disease, mainly heart attack and stroke, is the biggest killer of women in Ireland

•Women are six times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer

•In 2014, 4,388 women died from heart disease and stroke

•As women get older their risk of cardiovascular disease increases

•Risks of heart disease include: smoking, being overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being inactive or having diabetes and a family history of cardiac problems.

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