Two-Time Heart Attack Survivor Goes Red for Heart Health Awareness
Wearing red is something Sue VanDyk does every day in the month of February.
For the two-time heart attack survivor, it’s a visual reminder of what she’s overcome and of the sisterhood she’s now a part of. It also serves as a positive affirmation of second chances, of which she’s grateful for.
In 1988, Rockford resident VanDyk was just 33 when she experienced her first heart attack. At the time, she had a three-year-old daughter, Caitlin, and an eight-day-old son, Ryan. At the hospital she was told there was no way she was having a heart attack since she was so young and had just given birth.
Luckily, cardiologist Richard McNamara happened to be on duty that night. While he was doing his rounds, he was called in to consult on an ultrasound of VanDyk’s heart. She said he knew immediately that she had indeed suffered a heart attack, caused by a spontaneous coronary dissection, in which one of her smaller secondary arteries had disintegrated. VanDyk doesn’t think McNamara’s presence in the early morning hours at the hospital was a coincidence and he’s been her cardiologist for 28 years now.
After leaving the hospital, VanDyk settled into life as a mom of two while attending cardiac rehab sessions once a week.
“I was the youngest one there,” she said.
Although the advice to take it easy at home proved difficult with two little ones, VanDyk and her husband Tom did their best. They fell into a healthy routine, going on frequent walks and continuing already-established healthy eating habits.
Then, in 2000, VanDyk noticed that it was becoming more and more difficult to keep up on their walks. She felt extremely fatigued and then noticed pain in her jaw.
“I remembered reading an article that that might be something,” she said.
Her second official heart attack diagnosis also didn’t come easily. Doctors couldn’t see any blockages and told her that her “arteries look great”. She stayed in the hospital for about nine hours total waiting for her heart catheterization to close. As she was getting dressed to leave, she felt a heavy weight on her chest and knew her heart attack suspicion had been correct. An EKG confirmed what VanDyk knew. Arterial spasms were to blame for her second heart attack. She had two stents put in and now takes medication to control the spasms, which can happen at any time.
Still, for the past 16 years, VanDyk hasn’t been back in the hospital. She has volunteered her time with the local American Heart Association at events such as the Heart Walk and Heart Ball and she’s part of the organization’s Circle of Red.
With differences in how women’s heart attacks sometimes present, VanDyk said she’s encouraged that there’s more awareness than ever and that treatments and diagnosis methods have evolved since her first heart attack in 1988.
“And it just keeps getting better and better,” she said.
Now 60, VanDyk relied heavily on her faith and her family to get her through both heart attack experiences. She approaches her life now with a deep sense of gratitude.
“You’re thankful for every day you get,” she said.
Heart disease and stroke cause one in three deaths among women each year, killing approximately one woman every 80 seconds, according to the American Heart Association. You can raise awareness and show your support for the cause by wearing red on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, finding a local American Heart Month event, or donating.
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- 5 Foods to Keep Your Heart Happy and Healthy
Photo credit (main image): Julie Bitely