51-year-old Melanie lives in Delgany Co Wicklow with her husband and two teenage daughters. A busy and active woman, she had returned from a long walk with a friend on the evening of the 12th of June 2021 and began to feel unwell when she went to bed.
Thinking she had overdone it on the walk Melanie went to bed but was woken twice with what she can only describe as “a sensation” but no pain in her shoulder. She eventually fell asleep but the next morning, with her shoulder still not right, and convinced she had pulled it, she decided to go to the Emergency Department (ED) to get checked out.
Melanie’s husband offered to take her to the hospital, but she insisted on driving herself telling him she was fine and would see him later that day at home. Unfortunately for Melanie that was not to be.
It was very early on a Sunday morning. Melanie recalled parking her car in St Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) in Dublin and deliberately walking through the car park to the ED rather than taking the pedestrian stairwell which is something she would not normally do.
“Subconsciously I knew something was seriously wrong, that’s the only thing I can think of, and I reckoned if I collapsed, I would be found quicker, I’m assuming that’s what I was thinking,” she explained.
Thankfully, Melanie made it to the ED but after being triaged, evaluated and scanned she was told that she would be transferred by ambulance to St James’s Hospital immediately. She was also told that she had suffered a major heart attack and needed to have stents put in her heart.
“I became very paranoid about my health because of the fact that I had no symptoms before my heart attack,"
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic Melanie’s family were not allowed to visit or see her so they were extremely worried waiting for news at home.
She stayed in James’s that night before being transferred back to SVUH the next day where she stayed for five days in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU).
“I received amazing care, absolutely incredible care at both St James’s and St Vincents hospitals,” she said.
Melanie was discharged home with advice to take it easy, which as a busy and active woman she said was hard to follow. However, her body told her otherwise and she was surprised by the tiredness and weakness experienced, particularly in the early days when instead of a 10km walk, she was only able to manage a couple of minutes before feeling the need to rest.
She made a slow and steady recovery however the life changing experience has made her understandably anxious about her health.
“I became very paranoid about my health because of the fact that I had no symptoms before my heart attack. That was one of the most difficult things to deal with. Every ache, every pain or discomfort, I thought, is this something?” she said.
“It’s concerning and always at the back of my mind. It has been very difficult for the kids and husband too… however on the flip side , I am here, I am alive, I am healthy and I still have so much ahead of me, so you have to take positives too.”
Today thanks to the support of family, friends and colleagues, Melanie said physically she is doing well but feels she is more cautious now than before and does question niggles which previously she would have put down to being normal. The first anniversary of her heart attack this year was also a particularly emotional and reflective time.
“It gave me the reassurance that I am doing well, and will continue to do so. It also helped to re-instill lost confidence both physically and mentally.”
" You would look after everybody around you, but in general we are not great at looking after ourselves,"
Melanie said that women in their 40s and 50s tended to look after other people’s health over their own such as the health of family members and women were also more aware of issues such as breast and cervical cancers rather than heart disease.
She said that to date awareness of heart disease among women has not been on women’s radars because it has not received the attention it deserves.
“We are not necessarily aware of the different indicators that men and women may have when having a heart attack. There is a lack of information and focus readily available. So many of us have an image of heart attack resulting in a chest clenching, drop to the floor in excruciating pain, but as in my case, this is not necessarily so. Women present differently which was a surprise to me.”
“You would look after everybody else, you would look after your elderly parents, you would look after your kids, you would look after everybody around you, but in general we are not great at looking after ourselves unless we know there is something wrong,” she said.
“I would think there’s more of an awareness…with breast and cervical cancer. It’s when at this magical age of 50 where all of a sudden the State steps in and you get offered a mammogram or when you are younger you are called for cervical checks…there’s definitely just a heightened awareness there. Heart health should also be a key part of the awareness programmes.”
Since her heart attack, Melanie who has always been very fit and active has made some small changes to her lifestyle by trying to incorporate more of the Mediterranean diet into her daily meal plans and making sure she gets more regular daily exercise.
She said her advice to other women was to listen to their bodies and not ignore any signs or symptoms that they feel are not right. Do ask questions and seek help no matter how small or irrelevant you might think your symptoms are.
She added that the Irish Heart Foundation had been a great source of support throughout her experience, and she described the charity as “my go-to for advice.”
Melanie is also a member of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart Support Network on Facebook which she said was an extremely helpful and supportive resource.