Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Intuition and heart disease

Sometimes it pays to listen to your inner voice. As Mary (MacIsaac) Kalogeros, a freelance writer from Massachusetts, can attest, intuition is often correct.

For Kalogeros, that inner voice spared her life. At the youthful age of 38, she noticed a dull pain in the left side of her chest during increased physical activity. As she increased her levels of physical activity by picking up speed on the treadmill or working out longer, the intensity of the pain simultaneously increased.

“It was very mild initially, and I was debating over whether or not I should even mention it [to a doctor],” says Kalogeros.

When Kalogeros visited her local physician for a subsequent stress test, the results came out normal. According to the test, she was free of heart disease, but luckily intuition kept her asking questions.

“The problem persisted, so I kept pushing for answers” says Kalogeros.

After about a year of countless blood tests, a Holter monitor test, and a second negative nuclear stress test, Kalogeros’s physician came to the conclusion that her symptoms were not related to heart disease. They simply had to be from another condition, possibly indigestion, fibromyalgia, or even bi-lateral breast cancer.

“My symptoms were not consistent with any of these other disorders.” says Kalogeros, “I had been to the local emergency room more than a couple of times with chest pain and vomiting, but no one would listen because the tests up to that point were normal. I was no longer comfortable in my own skin. I felt as if I could suffer a massive heart attack or drop dead at any time.”
Taking Charge of Her HealthSo she took matters into her own hands. She discontinued exercise, began taking a daily aspirin, and insisted on seeing a cardiologist. Much to her disbelief, her “gut feeling” about a possible cardiac issue was met with the same reaction from the first cardiologist.

“He told me I was too young and healthy-looking to have ‘his stuff,’” says Kalogeros.

But she challenged him, and after successfully completing a third negative nuclear stress test while suffering chest pain, was more determined than ever to undergo a cardiac catheterization. Reluctantly, the cardiologist obliged, and he was stunned to find a narrowing in one of her major coronary arteries, the left anterior descending (LAD) artery.

“I had already decided to seek out a second opinion from my parents’ cardiologist at Mass General, Charles Boucher, MD, an interventional cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. Something just didn’t feel right. I decided to sit tight until then,” says Kalogeros.

Again, intuition paid off. When Dr. Boucher, finally received Kalogeros’s catheterization films, he called her immediately.

“He told me the LAD artery appeared extremely narrowed and described it as going from a four-lane highway down to a single lane.” says Kalogeros, “He said that I had exercised too vigorously, I might have suffered a major heart attack.”

Dr. Boucher opted first for stent placement, and within a couple of days Kalogeros was admitted for an angioplasty and stent work.

With an elevated cholesterol, a history of diabetes, and a very strong family history of heart disease, she knew deep down that she had heart disease. Yet she still had to tune into her body to push for a diagnosis from the right doctor.

“In my case, red flags should have been flying all over the place, but I still had to fight to get the right diagnosis. It’s alarming to think that in this day and age when so much is publicized about heart disease being the number one killer of women, that such ignorance still exists,” says Kalogeros.

Several months following her first stent, Kalogeros experienced chest pain once again. A second stent, this time drug-coated, was placed inside the bare-metal stent originally placed in the artery.
Heightened AwarenessSince December 2006, her arteries look much improved, which has contributed to her quality of life and overall energy. She uses this new found energy to tell her story and encourage others, particularly women, to take their symptoms seriously.

Kalogeros explains that the symptoms of heart disease often present themselves differently in women than in men, and women often brush these symptoms aside as stress or another condition. As the mother of a young daughter, she encourages women to take back control of their own health.

“I consider myself a very lucky person. I listened to that inner voice telling me to sit tight until I received that second opinion from Mass General. My intuition and Dr. Boucher’s quick response contributed to a positive outcome.

“I urge women to listen to that inner voice. If something is not right, you know it. Don’t let a doctor convince you otherwise. Advocating for yourself, for your life, is key." continues Kalogeros, "If there’s one thing I wish for my daughter through all of this, it’s to be courageous in life’s battles, especially when it comes to preserving your health. Having heart disease means you need a heightened awareness of your own body and how it normally operates - I’m blessed to have that.”

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