Mackenzie's Story

Life After Your Loved One’s Heart Attack

I’m not sure where this story starts. When I ask myself, what’s life been like since my mom’s heart attack, I have to ask, which one?

Does the story start with the heart attack she didn’t know she had? Does it start with the one she nearly didn’t survive? Does it start with her emergency quadruple bypass? Yeah, probably there. We’ll go with that.

My mom was about to have open heart surgery, and 14-year-old me knew I had inherited the same thing.

My mom was 42. Here’s what we knew: high cholesterol ran in the family. My grandpa died of a heart attack when he was just 30. My mom was about to have open heart surgery, and 14-year-old me knew I had inherited all of it.

I could tell you I was scared. I could tell you I was sad. I could tell you I was angry, but I truly don’t remember. My brain has done me a solid and blocked out that whole time in my life. I was told I shut down and drown myself in the high school classes I had only just begun (a workaholic habit I have carried into adulthood). I even went to school the day my mom had her surgery. I don’t know. I just hid from it all.

Cold hospital rooms and long car rides.

But when my mom had a massive heart attack in 2019, 33-year-old me couldn’t hide out at school. I got a call late one night while watching Game of Thrones with my girlfriends. It was my sister in a panic. She told me mom was in the hospital and not conscious.

Everything turned upside down after that.

Life after my mom’s heart attack was set in cold hospital rooms and long car rides. I’ll spare you all the medical lingo and just say my mom is lucky to be here.

I always hated when people said that, though. “You guys are so lucky.” “She’s lucky to be alive.” I didn’t feel lucky sleeping in the fetal position on hard waiting room couches. I didn’t feel lucky seeing my mom intubated with tubes and wires everywhere. These are things you’ll never unsee.

Tips for your time in the hospital.

I’ve become the resident “hospital expert” in my group of friends. It’s a weird accolade, being the person people turn to on how to survive hospital stays. Here are the tidbits I’ve picked up:

  • Get your loved one some grippy socks. The hospital gives them some, but there are cuter and warmer ones they will appreciate more.
  • You can also bring them their favorite robe from home, or better yet, a new fluffy one to keep them warm.
  • On that note, bring a sweater for yourself. I don’t care if it’s summer in Florida (which has been the case for me), bring a sweater. Hospitals are freezing.
  • Bring a notebook. When the doctor visits the room, you’ll want to write down what they say cause trust me, your brain will not process nor recall what was said an hour ago.
  • Write out text message updates in a notes app first. This makes it easier to copy and paste all the different people asking how your loved one is.
  • Bring snacks. You probably won’t want full meals for a while, but you need something in your stomach. Vending machines get old real fast.
  • Listen to your gut and be an advocate. If my family and I had listened to the first doctors caring for my mom, she wouldn’t be here today. They were ready to throw in the towel, and that just didn’t sit right with us. As a Family Heart Foundation Advocate for Awareness, I had the training and confidence to stand up for my mom. We spoke up. We got pushy. We insisted on a transfer to a larger hospital where she had a trusted team of physicians. We got it, and the larger hospital was better equipped to give my mom a full recovery. Never settle – your life and the life of your loved ones are too important.

After weeks in the hospital, my mom was sent home, but life did not go back to normal.

Life never really goes back to normal.

When someone you love has a heart attack (or any other type of traumatic event), life never really goes back to normal.

I called my mom every morning after that. If she didn’t pick up, I called back immediately. If I didn’t hear from her in minutes, I panicked. I now experience this anxiety with my father, my sister, and my closest friends. If I don’t hear from you, expect that I will panic until I know you’re safe. That’s just who I am now.

I take my health more seriously after all I’ve seen and been through with my mom. That’s a trait I’m happy to have taken on as a result of my experiences. I took COVID seriously because I’ve seen someone intubated and I didn’t want it. I take my cholesterol-lowering meds every day, even when I’m dog tired, in bed, and I left them downstairs. I work out multiple times a week to keep my body and my heart strong so even if I do end up in the hospital, I’ll recover faster. I’m trying to be proactive instead of reactive.

Tips for life after the hospitalization.

After my mom’s heart attack, I’ve had several friends go through similar events with their parents. Here’s what I tell them:

  • Seek professional mental help. This is trauma. I had nightmares, flashbacks, and anxiety attacks after all of this. Don’t downplay what you’re going through.
  • Seek expert health care guidance. If what your parents have gone through could be hereditary (mine 100% is), you need to get yourself and any children checked. Don’t think it won’t happen to you. You’ve seen it. Prevent it. If you need help, get in touch with the Family Heart Foundation’s Care Navigation Center. They’re always ready to help.
  • Be kind to yourself. Look, some days what my family has been through falls on top of me and feels suffocating. It is ok to say, I need to take care of myself. Today my job gets 50% of me. Today I need a warm blanket, coffee, and a phone call with someone I love.
  • Turn to those who understand. The Family Heart Community is strong and supportive. Each time I find myself in a hospital waiting room, I have a list of fellow advocates and individuals with FH I know I can text for support.
  • Give yourself time. When people I love are going through something hard, I always say, “I wish I could give you time because it’s the only thing that helps. I’m here for you while time passes.” Don’t expect to be over it right away. Someone coming home from the hospital doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s been 3 years for me, and I’m still uncovering ways I’ve changed. Like I can’t watch medical shows anymore. The beeps and ambience trigger me. It sucks because I love the show “Scrubs.”

Life after your loved one has a heart attack is forever changed, but it does go on. It’s a tough time, but you make it through and feel more resilient. I feel tough, wiser, and more grateful for every day I have and every phone call with my mom.

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