Like many moms, Julia Lou spent most of her time taking care of others, until she learned taking care of herself literally saved her life. She was on vacation with her husband and three young children in Hawaii when she felt a tightness in her chest and numbness on her left side. She had felt it before, but it had always gone away. This time, her husband insisted she see a doctor. She ended up in an emergency room and was told part of her heart wall was no longer moving.
The Lou family returned home to Austin, Texas where Julia was ultimately diagnosed with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD. The American Heart Association describes SCAD on it’s website.
“The artery wall has three layers and when a tear occurs, blood is able to pass through the innermost layer and become trapped and bulge inward. This narrows or blocks the artery and can cause a heart attack because blood flow cannot reach the heart muscle.”
Doctors say SCAD patients are often women who are otherwise healthy, and about a third of them have recently had a child. Dr. Suzanne Wetherold at the Heart Hospital of Austin told Julia she had likely lived through several heart attacks and not even known it. Julia remembers the feeling she would experience that she always thought was heartburn or just an upset stomach. Tears well up in her eyes as she describes the severe tightness in her chest after she had her third child that made it too painful to nurse her newborn son.
Julia started cardiovascular rehabilitation immediately to strengthen her heart. The cardio rehab is a doctor monitored program in which the heart muscle grows stronger through exercises. She says went to rehab several times a week for about one month at St. David’s HealthCare.
The Part of Julia’s Story She Wants Us All To Hear
Julia still has a busy life, but wants others to know the importance of self care and getting regular heart check ups.
“We must make sure we are healthy so we can have good health and the ability to love others,” said Lou.
She takes time to appreciate what may seem like small life moments: singing to her children at bedtime, hearing her daughter sing “Tomorrow” in the musical Annie, and listening to her son’s hopes of being an NBA star or maybe a radiologist.
“My heart needed to be healthy so I could enjoy and cherish each one of those moments,” said Lou.
In all of our need and desire to be busy, we may miss life saving warning signs, and we’re sure to miss a small moment with a loved one that may life changing.
- Heart attack warning signs: chest pain or pressure, pain in the arms, neck, jaw or stomach, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, nausea and dizziness.
(I heard Julia Lou tell her story February 26, 2016 at the Go Red For Women Luncheon in Austin, Texas.)