Nobody lived a healthier or more active life. She was the juicing guru to the stars. She exercised and ate right. But at forty-seven Pamela Serure, exhausted, in pain, and with diagnoses ranging from menopause to anxiety, discovered that she had heart disease. Lifestyle and diet couldn’t correct what her genes had determined. With two days to get her affairs in order, Pamela prepared for triple bypass surgery to correct three almost completely clogged arteries.
What the doctors missed and what most women don’t seem to know is that heart disease is the number-one killer of American women. It kills more women than all the cancers combined. Traditional markers of heart disease, such as high cholesterol, may not apply to women. As a result, doctors consistently misdiagnose female patients with anxiety, digestive distress, or symptoms of menopause.
Blindsided by her sudden bypass surgery, Pamela Serure turned her life-altering experience into a personal mission to help educate other women about this dangerous and far-reaching disease. In this book Pamela opens the door to her recovery process and tells readers what the doctors won’t. She has found experts to offer advice so that readers will know exactly what to look for and what tests to demand. Women share stories of how they persisted in having the cardiac tests run that saved their lives and others share stories of women they lost because of a missed diagnosis. Comforting, funny, and soulful, this is the book that will empower women to take charge of their heart health. As Pamela says, “These days heart disease has all my attention, as it should have yours.”
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Take It to Heart
The Real Deal On Women and Heart Disease
By Pamela Serure
Morgan Road Books
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
I always thought of my life as a real heart-on.
That is, up until the day my heart turned off.
I am writing about a broken heart. Not the variety that comes from a disrupted
family or a disillusioned love affair, nor the kind brought about by a longing
that has never been fulfilled. Not that I haven't experienced those; I assure
you I have endured all the varieties. But this particular story is about a
different sort of heartbreak-the heartbreak caused by heart disease.
The Heart Truth
Heart disease is the number-one killer
of American women.
-AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION (AHA), 2005
I have always thought of my heart as being on-vibrant, open, optimistic, and
exuberant. Ever since I was a kid, I had believed that everything was possible.
I knew that I was wanted and loved by my parents and my larger family, and that
knowledge gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams. Being a born Scheherazade,
I enjoyed playing to the crowd and lived for adventure.
I never married or had children, because I didn't want to give up my freedom.
Looking back on those choices, I recognize the profound emotional gratification
I deprived myself of. Nevertheless, as life progressed, myvarious
careers-designing jewelry, merchandising and creating fashion, and developing
innovative health concepts-brought me much recognition and many accolades and
awards. I felt satisfied (to a point) and successful (to a degree). Many of my
friends became famous and I played on the fringes of celebrity.
In my early forties, I wrote my first book, 3 Days to Vitality, based on my
healthy detox program, Get Juiced. I had become a juice-fasting guru among the
Hampton set and was already two decades into meditation and yoga, but my
internal mantra was "Do more-be more, have more." I still binged on stress
whenever and wherever it appeared. It was the diet of choice for women on the
fast track, and I was a born sprinter. Stress was a habit I sipped like a triple
latte. But just like caffeine, stress provided only a false sense of being
energized, and it barely kept me afloat. Also, it brought along with it its
constant companions: cortisol, the stress hormone, which ravages the body, and
adrenal fatigue, a burnout condition all of us stress junkies eventually
experience. In never stopping, never taking no for an answer, never being or
doing enough, I was wearing my heart out while my mind kept on going. But I
wasn't paying attention. Sound familiar?
I genuinely liked the person I was. I was at an exhilarating point in my life
and I still believed that I could do anything ... up until the day when my
heart turned off. That is when I had to surrender the "More" and "Go"-the two
commands by which I'd operated my life. Heart disease became my wake-up call: I
had to stop listening to that prodding mantra and pay attention to the messages
from my heart that I had ignored. Heart disease shocked me into accepting that
my relentless drives had been serviced by all the emotions I had kept in check
for years: doubt, fear, judgment, and a feeling of not being good enough. Those
drives had kept me away from a deeper place of rest and gratitude in my life.
And I needed to get to that place. I needed to put on the brakes and get down to
the business of healing.
Heart disease is the body's way of saying stop: Stop driving yourself; stop
overreaching; stop trying to fix the world. Just stop whatever it is that you
were so hell-bent on doing and breathe.
All my dreams, confidence, creativity, and healthy living could not protect me
from where my heart was about to take me ... which was not, as I'd often
hoped, to the love of my life or to all my dreams fulfilled, but to a 99 percent
blockage of my arteries and triple bypass surgery. I had heart disease, the old
man's disease. The disease for people who don't take care of themselves. The
disease of denial for young and vital women. I was no longer feeling the glow of
the Golden Child, nor like a lucky person, nor even special. When you feel
special, you think nothing can penetrate your aura, but it's only a delusion. As
it turned out, I was so much more than not special; I was a cookie-cutter case
of a woman with heart disease-the family disease, the stress disease. I was one
of every two women living silently with our number-one killer. I was one of the
eight million American women whose hearts had turned off.
The Heart Truth
One out of 2.5 American women will die
from heart disease or stroke.
In the seven years since my first heart event, I've arduously come to terms with
what happened. For starters, I finally had to admit that I had a broken
heart-from promises unkept, from love unmet, from genes unknown. Second, I had
to stop. Stop all the movement, the nonsense, and, above all, the drama that fed
my heart disease what it needed to grow. I had to focus instead on attending to
my heart daily by savoring the little pleasures, reprioritizing, and relearning
how life wanted to be lived. Finally, I had to break my denial and admit that I
had a chronic disease. I had to surrender to the truth that heart disease and I
were going to be lifelong partners.
These days, heart disease has all my attention, as it should have yours. Not
only do 1 in 2.5 American women have it but we also die from it faster because
it's harder to detect in us, we take longer to get care because we don't know
what the symptoms feel like, and we don't want to admit to having it because we
fear it is a fatal disease and imagine that it afflicts only aging men. But in
truth, it is a woman's fate as much as a man's. Heart disease among women
shouldn't be a secret, and I am not keeping it anymore.
Ten years ago, a famous psychic told me that my destiny in this lifetime was to
be a teacher of women. Of all the things I'd imagined becoming in my life and
had worked to accomplish, being a teacher was never one of them. And yet here I
am, called now to share with women the truth about heart disease. My destiny
came in an unexpected way, but it's my destiny nonetheless. I'm writing this
story now because I have to; I have no choice but to follow my heart. It has
become the true story of my life, as it has become the story of so many women's
CATHY A., Atlanta, Georgia
I had my first heart attack at thirty-nine. It was just a hairlike tertiary
artery, so I basically ignored it. Told myself it was no big deal. Then at
forty-two, I had a massive heart attack. I flatlined thirteen times in two and a
half hours. No one in Georgia had ever seen anything like it before. All my
major arteries went at once.
The night of my massive heart attack was Tuesday, April 12, 1998. I should've
been smarter. I should've known better. Not only had I suffered one heart attack
already but I was a rehab nurse at the hospital, so I worked with heart attack
and stroke patients all the time. But all I did that night when I started having
chest pains was call my mom. I didn't do anything else until 1:30 a.m. on
Wednesday, when the big pains hit and I started sweating from places I didn't
know it was possible to sweat from. That's when I finally went to the hospital.
You know how sometimes you're watching a movie and it fades to black? I was
sitting on the gurney, and I did that. Last thing I thought before I flatlined
was, I'm screwed. I knew I was dying. There was no way I could hurt the way I
hurt and survive. I was panicking. I was telling the nurses I worked with,
people who knew me, "I'm dying! I'm dying! I'm dying!" They kept saying, "Calm
down." I said, "I'm dead." Then I was gone, down for the count. It was a
horrific situation. Every time I came back, I'd start talking as if I was having
normal conversation, but then I'd flatline again. After six or seven times, they
usually let you go. But my friend Darlene, who was working on me, said, "She's
fighting, so we have to fight, too." I was lucky to be at a hospital where the
nurses were my friends. So the doctors kept going.
When I woke up seventeen hours later in the ICU, I thought I was dead. I heard a
funny noise and wondered why it was so dark. I thought, What? I didn't make it
to heaven? I could feel my consciousness trying to wrap itself around the
trauma. But then as the fog began to fade, I started thinking, Wow, I'm alive? I
was amazed, as were all the nurses.
I put 99 percent of the blame for my heart disease squarely on my own shoulders.
I'd spent many years smoking, starting when I was seventeen. Even when I had
that minor heart attack at thirty-nine, I quit for only a year, and then I
started smoking again. I was also a heavy pot smoker. I drank a lot. I was
overweight. I didn't exercise other than to get up to go to the fridge. I didn't
have enough respect for myself to pay attention to the gravity of cardiovascular
disease. I knew all about heart disease because I worked with people who had it.
Yet still I'd say, "I'll drink and smoke till the day I die." And I was true to
my word, because I did die, but I was resurrected. The doctors said, "We don't
know why you're here." I said, "You know you're in trouble when you go to heaven
thirteen times and they put up a sign that says 'Do not disturb.' You know God's
got some greater mission for you to accomplish in life."
Since waking up from my heart surgery that day, I've taken my medicine, changed
my diet, quit smoking and drinking, and started exercising. I was horrified to
know that I had really killed myself.
But I still had battles to fight in this war. After the triple bypass, I did
well for about two months, and then I started having trouble again. I'd hurt
real bad from angina when I lay down at night, and it would wake me up in the
morning. I told my doctors, "Something is wrong." But you know, I'm afraid that
when male doctors in particular see a woman coming in time and again for the
same problems, they say, "Oh, you're just having anxiety. You're making it up."
I kept saying, "Bull. You really need to listen to me."
Let me tell you something that I find incredible, so that women who read this
will never, ever let their doctors dismiss them again. On the Friday night
before my third heart attack, I told the doctor that I wasn't feeling well. He
kept me overnight on an IV drip. On June 11, the following day, another doctor
came in and said, "I really haven't read your case file, because it's too thick
and I don't have time, but I don't see anything indicating that you're having
heart problems." I'd thrown up, which is a classic symptom for women. I had a
headache. But he said, "I don't see anything. I really think we've got a case of
hypochondria here. I'm sending you home." I said, "Something is wrong." He said,
"I don't see anything that indicates that." When the nurse came in to disconnect
me from the IV, she said, "The doctor wrote an order for you to go home. If you
don't leave, your insurance won't pay for it." So I left. I was furious. I said,
"I'll be back."
The very next day, June 12, I told my husband to take me to the hospital. I was
really hurting. I couldn't manage with the sublingual nitroglycerin. As soon as
the doctor ran the EKG, he was barking orders like an army sergeant. The doctor
from the day before walked in and started screaming about how I was a
hypochondriac and got sent home. But the ER doc said, "Come look at this." He
showed him my EKG. Then they both started calling for a cardiac ambulance to
take me to a bigger hospital. When I got there, they said, "Gee, we're sorry,
but you've had another heart attack." All that first doctor had to do was keep
me in the hospital for another twenty-four hours of observation, but he'd
dismissed me because I was a woman. He thought I was being stupid or
overreacting, so he sent me home.
My husband and I were furious. My body was going to do what it did, and I take
responsibility for my heart disease. But when that doctor dismissed me, I was
off-the-charts angry. Arrogant doctors think they know more about us than we do!
When I got back to that hospital, I said to the doctor who'd told me I was a
hypochondriac, "You're fired."
Luckily, God still wanted me around. I survived my third heart attack and more.
In December of 1998, one of the arteries they bypassed closed, and I was on the
edge of a fourth heart attack. The doctors put a stent in, then another. They
said, "You're going to continue to have cardiac episodes like this until your
heart stops. We don't believe you'll live another year." They sent me to a
psychiatrist to help me deal with dying. I said, "Are you God? I don't need help
dying! I've already done that a couple of times. I need help living." I told him
to leave. God didn't put me through all this in order to die; I knew that much.
In March 1999, I started chelation. I'd been consuming one hundred milligrams of
nitroglycerin sublingually per week and I couldn't walk to the bathroom without
hurting. But after a year of chelation and a regimen of omega-3 fatty acids,
vitamin E, and coenzyme Q10, I wasn't even taking nitroglycerin. I was cleaning
my house, vacuuming, sweeping, and taking showers without fear of keeling over.
I even got a part-time job. I'm fifty years old now and I plan on sticking
around for a long time to come.
I have to take responsibility for the fact that I have these heart problems
because of my own behavior. But I have two children, lots of friends, and lots
of things I want to do. And I don't want to go yet. So I had to find a way to
love myself, to fight to stay here. That meant accepting certain things: No, you
don't drink, you don't get high, and you don't smoke, because you like breathing
a whole lot more. I had to empower myself to live. This is my choice, my
destiny. Choice is the word. It's your choice. Some people tell me that sounds
hard. Well, how much harder is it to leave your kids behind?
Excerpted from Take It to Heart
by Pamela Serure
Copyright © 2006 by Pamela Serure.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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