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Cardiovascular Services - McLaren Port Huron

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Cardiovascular Services - McLaren Port Huron 1221 Pine Grove Avenue
Port Huron, MI 48060
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About Us

McLaren Port Huron Cardiovascular Services provide comprehensive care for heart disease and conditions. Our services offer individualized care from diagnosis and treatment through rehabilitation. Treatment for heart conditions include the latest minimally invasive and surgical procedures including protected percutaneous coronary interventions (PCI) with Impella, the world’s smallest heart pump. Our experienced team of cardiac specialists provide integrated advanced treatment for heart attack or myocardial infarction, heart rhythm disorders, peripheral vascular disease and chest pain.

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June, 2018

On Sunday, January 31, 2016, I set out in a local 5K with my husband and son, like I had many times before. My son took his own pace and, as always, my husband, Joe, was by my side. It was a cold day in Michigan, but the sun was out.

Carol running race 2016
Carol running the race in 2016 when she had a heart attack

Slightly before halfway through the race, I told Joe I had a pain about the size of a 50-cent piece above my left breast. It came and went, but I knew it wasn’t a runner’s pain.

He noted that I had on a lot of layers, suggested that I take one off, and said we should walk for a bit. We reached midway, which was an upward stretch, and when I started running the pain returned.

“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I said.

Joe, a fireman and EMT, said, “Carol, no, you’re not. Let’s just walk.”

In Joe’s defense, I had no other symptoms. Nevertheless, he told me to sit and went to get the car to take me to the hospital.

I saw our car heading my way when WHAM ... my arm! I looked down at my manicured nails and the pain was so bad I was waiting for them to blow off. Now, I knew I was having a heart attack. This couldn’t be happening. I was only 52, a non-smoking, non-drinking, Weight Watchers lifer girl running a 5K.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I had things to do today and I had a family vacation planned in five weeks to the Florida Keys! I want to see my three sons get married. I want grandchildren. I can’t be having this.

At the hospital, a nurse took me to an ER room. Here I am, alone in the ER and thinking I am going to die as my 20-year-old son watches through the window.

An unhealthy legacy

I watched my dad die at 42 of a heart attack when I was 11. My grandfather passed at 50, and my uncle at 54. Their legacy to me was high cholesterol: At age 23, my cholesterol was 511.

Years later, after having two kids, my family doctor told me, “Carol you are going to have a heart attack if you don’t get this cholesterol under control.” I switched doctors because he made me mad.

At the hospital, I had a cardiac catheterization and a stent placed in my left anterior descending artery—"the widow maker.”

My new doctor, cardiologist Dr. Sivaji Gundlapalli, came in everyday even on his day off. He called me “his little runner.”

“Carol, you need to do yoga and find a way to calm down and learn to breath and relax,” he told me.

The nutritionist said to change to skim milk and to eat more chicken and fish. I already ate healthy. I have low blood pressure and weigh 132 at 5 feet tall. Apparently, that isn’t enough.

No place like home

The day finally arrived for me to go home. I remember I couldn’t wait to see my boys, my cats and my own bed.

I listened to all the instructions the discharge nurse told me. I knew the names and dosage of all my new drugs, and what I took them for. I got in a wheelchair and headed out to the car.

Then it hit me. I couldn’t do this. I live in a small farming community, not right across the street from the hospital like during the 5K. I wanted to stay.

After a stop to get my meds and a blood pressure monitor, Joe pulled into our driveway. I couldn’t open the car door and for the first time in six days, he showed some emotion. He put his arm around me, kissed me and said, “Don’t ever do that again.”

Now, the “what ifs” started. Every little thing made me believe it was happening again. What if I’m here and no one is around to know I need help? I’m supposed to walk a quarter mile a day. When I get to the corner, my heart is beating a little faster. What if it’s the beginning of another heart attack?

Vacation is good medicine

Carol and family on vacation
Carol and her family on vacation after her heart attack

I had to pull myself together. We were scheduled to go on vacation in four weeks and I wanted to be good to go. The “what ifs” hadn’t disappeared, but people helped ensure I never felt totally alone.

I started cardiac rehab and slowly regained confidence in my ability to exercise. I started walking again, carrying my nitro tablet in my pocket, never far from my heart.

The week before vacation, I had an echocardiogram and a nuclear stress test. Because of the quick action by my husband and the great care from McLaren Port Huron ER, the long-term damage to my heart is zero. Dr. Gundlapalli saved my life. I was good to go to the Keys.

Before leaving for vacation, I knew the closest hospital in the Keys, packed my blood pressure machine, all my meds, and tried to tame the what-if beast. Just in case, I have a laminated list of meds in both my wallet and my husband’s.

Once on vacation, something else became clear. In Florida, I could be the old me—the Carol who existed before the heart attack. It was the beginning of my journey back to health, physical and mental.

Two weeks after returning from what was the best therapy of all, vacation, I returned to work. Never underestimate the power of returning to a predictable routine after a traumatic event.

Carol running race after heart attack
Carol participating in the same race two years later, as a heart attack survivor

In January 2018, I ran the 5K that I wasn’t able to finish two years ago. The what ifs tried to work their way back in, but I wouldn’t let them stay. I finished the race and can say again “life is good.”

Learn more about heart services at McLaren Port Huron.

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