Sheila's Heart Attack StoryJun 6, 2019
Sheila Caldwell, 53, heart attack survivor; President and Co-founder of The Heart2Heart Foundation
There were warning signs along the way, but like a lot of women you can find something else to blame it on. I think a lot of times we blame them on other things or push them in the background because we are busy and we don’t want to admit that might be us.
On May 30, 2012, Sheila Caldwell had a heart attack.
The emergency medical team from Piedmont Medical Center came out to her house and began working on her right away before getting her into the emergency department. She had 99.9 percent blockage, which they opened up. A stent was inserted and she spent five days in ICU and the heart unit, then three months in cardiac rehab.
She was 50 at the time and admits she had spent the months leading up to it ignoring the warning signs.
“In the months leading up to the heart attack, I had a number of warning signs, one of them being chronic fatigue,” she says. “The fatigue was so debilitating I had even stopped working part-time because I found it so difficult to function and do day-to-day activities.”
She brushed it off as menopause, and when she had radiating pain along her jaw, she chalked it up to stress. Then, she had a tremendous amount of pain between her shoulder blades, but because she was also struggling with myalgia and arthritis, she ignored that one, too.
“I knew I was at high risk for heart disease because of my father had his first heart attack at 42 and had a heart transplant when he was 51,” she says. “Most of the family on that side had already had some kind of heart issue - heart attack, stint, and we have that familial disorder where we look at food and produce cholesterol.”
Because she was so high risk, Sheila had always tried to follow the rules, making necessary dietary changes and taking medication for cholesterol and blood pressure.
“But even knowing all of that, I wanted to think I had dodged the family bullet, because I had been doing all the things we tell people to do,” she says.
The morning of the heart attack, Sheila had everything symptom on the list, all at the same time –cold sweats, dizziness, nausea, chest pressure, pain in the shoulders down both arms, shortness of breath.
“There were warning signs along the way, but like a lot of women you can find something else to blame it on,” she says. “I think a lot of times we blame them on other things or push them in the background because we are busy and we don’t want to admit that it might be us.”
Helping other women
During her recovery, Sheila was shocked to find there were no organizations in the area committed to reaching women to educate them about heart disease, prevention, and getting access to clinical resources like screenings to reverse local instances of women with heart disease.
So she started The Heart2Heart Foundation.
“A woman dies every minute, every day in this country from heart disease, when 80 percent of that can be managed or prevented,” she says. “That was an eye opener that didn’t make any sense to me. We can make a difference about why we are seeing so many women dying, and a lot of that comes down to awareness and education and sounding the alarm.”
Sheila and the foundation reach women through public speaking events and education programs in the community, including health fairs, lunch and learns, and even girls’ night out at the local library.
“Anywhere we can get a group of women, and a lot of men, to come out and talk about the disease, and talk about what we can do to reduce those risk factors, and prevent having a heart attack like I did, we do,” she says.
Heart2Heart meets the third Thursday of every month at PMC where both men and women can come and get a free heart health screening.
“Every awareness program comes down to one thing – if we can get more men and women screened so they know what their numbers are and what their risk factors are and they can develop a plan of prevention with their doctor, than we have done our job,” she says.
Now Sheila is happy and healthy, and attributes much of that to her participation in the cardiac rehab program at Piedmont.
“The first time they put me on the treadmill, I was scared to death, because I was afraid of over-exerting myself,” she says. “But as the weeks went on and it got me back in the habit of being fit, now a little over two years later, that is exactly where I am at. You have nurses there with you, so if I had the slightest blip they were right there. And it really helped me get back into exercising.”