Karlie Burgess (pictured) suffered her first heart attack at the tender age of 27. The blood vessels of Karlie’s heart are now supported by three stents – small metal scaffolds that open up clogged arteries to restore normal blood flow. For the upcoming World Heart Day on September 29th , Karlie is sharing her story to show her support for the Heart Research Institute (HRI).
In March 2011, at the age of 27, I had my first heart attack. I was at home, just waking up and preparing for a Friday at work, when I had really bad tightness right in the middle of my chest. My arms felt a bit dead and a bit numb, and I felt really nauseous. I thought that I might be having an asthma attack, so I took myself to hospital. At the hospital the doctors kept asking me to describe what was wrong, and I remember that I kept repeating ‘I have a bit of tightness in the chest, and I just don’t feel right’.
After numerous tests a doctor came in and said to me ‘It’s confirmed: you’re having a heart attack.’ I was floored. I said ‘I think you’ve made a mistake, I’m only 27, I don’t know what’s going on here!’ It was particularly perplexing because I don’t have any family history of heart disease, I don’t have any risk factors, I’ve never smoked cigarettes in my life, I don’t take drugs, and my cholesterol wasn’t high. I was a fairly fit person before the heart attack.
The symptoms got worse, and soon I was rushed by ambulance to the Hospital. I had an urgent angiogram and that’s when they found that I had a blockage in a main artery supplying blood to my heart. I was wheeled off to surgery for a process called angioplasty, where doctors use a tiny balloon to open up the artery, and then insert a metal stent to keep the artery open. I had 2 stents put in at that time. Afterwards, I spent a couple of days being monitored in the coronary care unit, and the rest of the week in the cardiac ward.
I did a little bit of rehab, went back to work 3 days/week. After a couple of months – in June of 2011, on my first full week back at work – I had some tightness in my chest again, and this time I just went straight to hospital. There seemed to be another small blockage in the same artery, the one that already had the two stents. So I went into surgery again, to have a third stent put in.
Since then, I’ve been put on quite strong blood-thinning medication, and another type of medication to assist with blood pressure and chest pain. I’ve had a bit of sickness, of nausea from the medication. I’ve also had some crazy side-effects from some of it – for instance, I just got over having quite a bad petechial rash. For those who don’t know what that is, it looks like many little spots of blood underneath your skin. It’s not very attractive.
The recovery has been… difficult. I’ve struggled a bit in the last 2 years. I’ve been in and out of hospital over the two years, with chest pain and things like that. Physically, you just kind of start again, and you get your fitness back, and you finally start to feel normal again. But the mental side of things, the anxiety and the worrying, they’re harder to cope with. You’ll be in the middle of something when suddenly you’ll stop to think—‘Did my heart just go fast? What was that pain?’
Just over a month ago, my fears were realised when I had another heart attack. I was standing in my gym class, about to start – I hadn’t even done one ounce of exercise yet! – when I got the most horrific pain in my chest, and both of my wrists hurt really badly. I knew it was serious, and I was rushed to hospital.
The doctors think that the most recent heart attack was caused by a blood clot. They tell me that sometimes a blood clot gets wedged in the stent, or sometimes the blood vessel tries to heal over the stent. The treatment was very strong drugs over the night that I was there, which breaks up the blood clot. When they did the angiogram the next morning, there was no blockage and thankfully, there wasn’t too much damage from this latest attack.
When people ask me why I donate to the Heart Research Institute, I tell them that supporting heart research is something that now I strongly believe in. People need to have a think about how they can actually help. I mean, I’ve got three things inside me that scientists made… they’re keeping me alive! Heart research saves lives, and I’m living proof.
The Heart Research Institute is a not-for-profit medical research institute where scientists are working on better ways to detect, treat and ultimately prevent cardiovascular disease. To learn more or donate visit www.hri.org.au