Sandie is very proud to be in her 40th year of nursing, having spent the last 38 working at St. Mary’s, most recently in the Presurgical Clinic, prepping patients for various procedures, including heart surgery.
Given her extensive family history of heart disease and diabetes, Sandie had anticipated experiencing some health challenges in her lifetime. The fact is, she now has both. At the age of 49 Sandie developed diabetes, and at 57 she was diagnosed with heart disease.
Sandie credits her pharmacist for providing an early warning. Upon reviewing Sandie’s medications he pointed out, “You’ve got diabetes, you’ve got high blood pressure, you’ve got high cholesterol, you are heading towards metabolic syndrome. That whole cluster of conditions increases your risk of heart disease. On top of that, you have a stressful job and a stressful life. Sandie, you’ve got to be really careful.”
“Talking every day with patients and listening to their symptoms I hear so many cardiac patients say, “I eat right, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I exercise and I have heart disease. How did that happen? But you realize that you don’t need to be obese and to be a smoker and to eat French fries every second day to end up with heart disease. The genetic component is huge. And you think, yeah, I am heading down that road.”
Sandie’s first symptom was the shortness of breath she experienced just walking from the parking lot into work each day. At the gym, Sandie was experiencing discomfort and pressure under her collarbone and her symptoms started getting more intense. Noticing that she was gradually reducing the treadmill speed at each workout, Sandie admitted “I’m modifying my exercise because of my symptoms. That’s not a good sign.” Still, Sandie did not seek treatment.
It was during a 30th anniversary trip to Hawaii that Sandie finally admitted it was time to take action.
On their very first day during a climb to the top of Diamond Head volcano, Sandie was so short of breath she found herself needing to claim moments of rest, but did so under the guise of taking photos. Though in denial, in the back of her mind Sandie knew there was something wrong. Their trips we’re usually really active, but for the rest of the time she says she just “chilled out”.
Upon returning home, Sandie’s trip to her family doctor resulted in the scheduling of a stress test. Booked at St. Mary’s, of course Sandie was familiar with the technician. When a physician was called in following the test, Sandie figured perhaps she was getting some special treatment. Those hopes were quickly dashed. Showing her the ECG tracing, the doctor pointed out, “If you just had ischemia in one lead we wouldn’t really worry about it too much, but if you see here, and here, and here, and here. We need to do an angiogram on you.” That was a life altering moment, but Sandie knew she would be well taken care of. “We do such good work here.” remarks Sandie.
The angiogram revealed that Sandie was not a candidate for the insertion of stents; there were too many bad blockages. That’s when it really hit Sandie and she became emotional knowing she now needed open heart surgery.
Just a year after her pharmacists’ first warning, five bypasses were performed on Sandie’s heart due to 80-90% blockage.
Sandie knows how fortunate she is that this was caught in time; having not experienced a heart attack, Sandie has no heart damage. “If any of my friends say they’ve got chest pains or are short of breath I’m adamant that they go and get a stress test done.”
Sandie’s hospital stay was typical and recovery went very well. She completed the cardiac rehabilitation program, following which she embraced returning to her own gym. She was getting her life back on track.
In addition to her commitment to fitness, Sandie has implemented changes to decrease her stress level. “I give myself tons of time. I don’t try to fit in that extra thing to do before leaving the house. I am no longer rushing everywhere. I need to learn to say no, even to myself.”
Reflecting on all of the health challenges Sandie has overcome, she realizes now that “You have to focus on what's important. I am now taking time to go out for walks and for lunch with friends. As caregivers, it’s in our nature to nurture so we always place taking care of ourselves at the bottom of the list. In retrospect, I should have taken more time for me.”