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Compass: Walking Back to Health

By: Allison Miller
By: Allison Miller

Everyday after work Mary Erdal steps outside and begins her walk around the neighborhood. She typically covers about four to five miles, but one day last November Mary barely made it a few blocks before it became clear something was wrong.

" I was feeling a real burning sensation. It was almost like I could hardly stand to breathe the cold air."

Ignoring the pain Mary kept walking until it simply became unbearable and she stumbled into a stranger's yard and asked for a ride home.

"The doctor told me later that had I tried to walk home I wouldn't be here. I would have died because I wouldn't have been able to make it home and that was just four blocks"

But when you're having a heart attack a few blocks or a few minutes can be the difference between life or death.

Mary was rushed to Luther Hospital where cardiologist Steve Schreiter performed an angioplasty to open her blocked artery.
Mary's current cardiologist Dr. John Rozich says many women don't recognize heart disease as a health priority.

"Understandably I think women worry about a number of health concerns certainly breast cancer is an understandable fear for women of all ages, yet when you look at the stats heart disease claims as many as 7 to 8 times the number of lives in the nation among women."

But Mary Erdal wasn't one of them. She lived to learn what many women do not, that the symptoms of a heart attack for women are often different than in men.

"People always think chest pain. They always think if it's not in my chest than it's not in my heart and that for women really isn't accurate" says Dr. Rozich.

Instead women more often experience dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, upset stomach in addition to possible throat, neck and back pain.

Dr. Rozich says because the symptoms are the type that are nagging most people think they can wait until later to deal with the issue.

" We would really ask people to pay attention and it doesn't hurt to make a call to their doctor" says Rozich.

Mary's doctor's also advised a few lifestyle changes like dropping some weight and eating a more heart healthy diet, but she says these changes were minor in comparison to the overall picture.

"The hardest part of the entire experience has been to realize that I'm the age that I am and that I've had a heart attack and that I have to change my lifestyle."

It's a realization cardiologist Rozich says a lot of women need to have a lot sooner.

"As women age the need to see their primary care doctors or their physicians to have an assessment of their risk factors, that needs to be done," says Rozich.

And for Mary she says it's just one more part of her ongoing recovery.

"Your body is an amazing piece of equipment and it heals in it's own way but if you take really good care of it you can probably be healthier than you've ever been before."

And even though Mary had her heart attack while walking, it's her return to walking that will keep her healthy in the years to come.


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