Janelle's story: Heart disease tears families apart

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My mother died from a heart attack

My name is Janelle and I am 34. I became an HRI supporter or a ‘Hero of the Heart’ in 2012. At the time I didn’t know much about The Heart Research Institute but was eager to find out more as my family has a real history with heart disease.

My father, who is now 70, first suffered from angina when he was 35. It was decided that he needed to undergo Holter monitor testing, which showed that during the day he had no symptoms… but when at rest, his heart went berserk. Subsequent to the testing he was treated with medication for a heart condition.

At the time he was in a managerial position and was attending university. He suffered his first heart attack in 1988 when he was just 43 and a stent was inserted. His second heart attack came after the passing of my mother in 2003. Dad was 58 when four new stents were inserted. (There should have been another, but it was unable to be inserted as it was too close to a main artery. However after surgery, that artery managed to clear itself.)

Dad wasn’t even home for a week when he realised he’d contracted a staph infection in hospital. It managed to eat away the main artery in his right leg!  I was with him when the artery ruptured and the blood loss was significant. He was rushed back to hospital and remained there for three months to treat the infection.

His vascular surgeon managed to expose, clean and repair the damaged artery in his leg. He had three courses of antibiotics (both intravenous and oral) but the infection wouldn’t clear. In the end a doctor realized that there was a conflict between the prescribed antibiotics and Dad’s diet. He should have been prohibited certain foods as part of a restricted diet from the start... that’s now been remedied. He is currently on Crestor to lower his cholesterol, Aspirin to thin the blood and Triace and Notan to control his blood pressure.

My father’s fight with heart disease is one matter… but even more devastating is the fact that my mother died from a heart attack in 2003. My mother had developed severe headaches over a period of time and after visiting more than half a dozen doctors, none could figure out what was wrong with her. She was slimly built and had a low level of ‘the bad’ cholesterol.

Investigations were directed towards possible growths/tumors or injuries she may have sustained and she underwent head scans. No-one ever gave much thought to the possibility that her heart was the problem as she didn’t fit the stereotype for heart disease. The possibility was discounted and never investigated.

My mother passed away from a massive heart attack on Tuesday, 7th October 2003. 

On the Thursday prior, she had visited four doctors in one day with my father and still no-one considered it may have been an anomaly in blood flow to her head that was causing her headaches. There was only ever a hint from one doctor who said her blood pressure might have been a little high… but she was never asked if she was taking any medication as everyone was looking in the wrong direction.

On analysis after her death it was noted that a blood clot had formed and was probably caused by HRT (hormone replacement therapy) tablets. The blood was not circulating properly as the blood vessels in our brains are so small and this increased flow through the narrow vessels was causing her headaches. Six months after her death I recall there being a lot of talk in the news about HRT tablets and these possible side-effects.

Then in August 2007 when my eldest brother was 35, he too experienced a mild heart attack. He had two stents inserted and they thought the surgery had been successful… until January 2008 when he experienced symptoms including being breathlessness during exertion and some chest discomfort. He made a return visit to his cardiologist much sooner than expected.

He went for an angiogram in February 2008 and it was determined that a triple bypass (at the minimum) was needed straight away. He ended up having a quadruple bypass and six weeks off work. It was a difficult recovery, not being able to even pick up his kids for so long and in the early days the post-op. Sleeping positions were quite restrictive.  

He has fully recovered now but remains on medication for his blood pressure and to keep his cholesterol level low.

I have two other siblings and we are all acutely aware that we are in a high risk category due to our family’s history of heart disease.

Apart from my regular donations, I have also raised money for The HRI at several fundraising events, as I truly believe their work is immeasurable in its value.

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