Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Go Red for Women & Heart Healthy Dark Chocolate Strawberry Smoothies

I'm a woman and a survivor of heart disease. I am blessed each day I wake up alive to spend another day with my family. Friday is Go Red Day where across the nation, we wear red in honor and memory of women with heart disease. The American Heart Association reports cardiovascular disease to be the number 1 killer of women in America. Those numbers can change. I'm a living testament to that. 

I was 27 years old when I was diagnosed with Autonomic Dysfunction, a Global Cardiomyopathy, and fatal cardiac arrhythmias including Ventricular Tachycardia.  It was overwhelming.  It almost killed me but thanks to an insightful, brilliant Cardiology Specialist, my Electrophysiologist, Dr. Clemo, I am alive raising my children, being a wife to my wonderful husband, and living on our small chicken farm- here to fight another day. 
Traditionally, heart disease was thought to be a "Man's Illness" and sadly even today, many women are neglected by the health care community.  The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women seeks to change that and they've made outstanding progress.  Just since I was diagnosed 10 years ago, the treatment I receive when its necessary for me to go straight to the hospital has changed dramatically. 

My husband and I fought for almost 3 years to get a quality diagnosis and care.  Three days prior to having my dual chamber ICD (Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator) an ER physician pulled my husband from the room and told him to get me evaluated for depression and anxiety.  Now, not to say I wasn't anxious- BOY was I ANXIOUS!  I'd been fainting regularly- several times a week regularly.  Sometimes on the treadmill, my heart rate would shoot up to the 200 range within 3-5 minutes of my warm-up.  I was seriously fatigued (which can also be a classic sign of depression) and often short of breath.  I was beginning to think it was all in my head but then I felt so strongly something wasn't right with my body.  I accepted the prescription for Zoloft from my primary care physician on the terms that if I took "his" route he would agree to write a referral for a cardiologist.  Although the preliminary EKG and chest X-ray came back normal, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was not.

Seeing a cardiologist allowed me to have some more extensive testing done.  Not everyone who has a cardiac disease will have an abnormal EKG!  If you take nothing else away from my post- take that as one of the two items to rememberm the second is to trust your body!  Never be embarrassed to get second opinions.  After having an echocardiagram, I was told I DO have a global cardiomyopathy.  Global meaning it was my entire heart muscle and not just one of the four chambers, cardiomyopathy meaning basically my heart was sick.  Your heart is a muscle and it needs to stay strong like your other muscles to function, mine is no longer strong.  My ejection fraction was very low which basically means it's not pumping as well as it should.  This explained why I was fainting, short of breath and so physically exhausted all of the time.  I am at risk of sudden cardiac death and dangerous cardiac arrhythmias.  I was stunned- I suddenly wished I was "just depressed or anxious" as I'd been told.  Thank God for my loving and supportive family and that my EP, Dr. Clemo happened to transfer to our little town 10 years ago from Richmond soon after my diagnosis. 

I was in and out of the hospital quite frequently while they attempted various cardiac drugs and tests.  Unfortunately, I continued to lose consciousness often and my symptoms appeared worse (beta blockers will make you feel as if you're 120 years old!)  By this time we had met Dr. Clemo and he'd made attempts to speak with my attending cardiologists about looking at implanting an ICD.  They refused based on my age, they even insisted I must have my husband's written consent to have the EP study done by Dr. Clemo!  My husband's consent!  Folks, this was 10 years ago, not 50.  My husband is amazing- he laughed when they told him this, looked me right in the eyes and said, "YOU know your body, YOU have done the research, YOU know much more about this than I ever will.  Do you want this done?" I said, "Yes" of course and we were done.  Several days later my heart decided to stop and then start up and race in the 200 range and then stop again and then race again. 
Dr. C is also a great surgeon, my scar is minimal and you can barely see my device.
I awoke to Dr. Clemo saying in his British accent, "You scared the piss out of us last night!  No worries- I'm taking over and we're putting a piece of metal in your chest to take care of this.  Chuck signed the papers."  I was off to have my first ICD implanted.  Dr. C saved my life but he also gave me my life back.  He uncovered and diagnosed my Autonomic Dysfunction and teamed up with my husband and I to ensure I saw the best specialists in the country to help us balance the Autonomic Dysfunction treatment with my Cardiac disease treatment as they often counter each other.  It's been 10 years, 3 times being defibrillated, and 3 heart attacks until now.  I am happily at my desk, homeschooling my children, being a wife to my husband, and running our small chicken farm with the help of my family. 

Until my own heart disease, I knew nothing about what my numbers should be, what a heart attack could feel like, nor signs of trouble.  After three heart attacks, I can honestly tell you never once did I have chest "pain."   I felt a pressure- almost like an elephant was standing on my chest and it took much effort to inhale and exhale, a focused effort to breath; exhausted, terribly and physically (not the mental tired- this is different); I was sweaty- GROSS sweaty ladies, drippy, nasty sweaty; and nauseous- oh SO sick to my stomach in a way that was "different" than I'd felt before.  Amazingly, I also began to feel a sense of dread- I tried to ignore it and chalk it up to anxiety or panic at first but then I realized it was real and it was there.  I did not imagine it, my body was screaming for me to get help.  Praise God, I have an ICD so anytime my heart stops or starts running in dangerous arrhythmias, it shocks me.  It's also a "pacemaker" so when my heart decides to run low (for me it's set at 74 beats per minute) it gently paces me back up to the 74 bpm.  Find out all of the typical symptoms of women's heart attacks here and more information here

A little bit of my morning, afternoon, and evening regiment
Go Red for Women is so important to me for obvious reasons!  I credit the Go Red for Women movement and doctors like Dr. Clemo for pushing the movement of diagnosis and treatment of women's heart disease forward!   Take care of your bodies, know your numbers, and know the signs! 

Now without further ado, my Go Red for Women & Valentine's Day Heart Healthy Strawberry, Dark Chocolate Smoothie!

I enjoyed this smoothie with my children, 3 of my favorite Valentines so the recipe will make an entire blender full.  You can cut it in half for less or stash the rest in the refrigerator! It's so delicious but it has the heart healthy ingredients of dark chocolate, strawberries, and yogurt!

Ingredients & Directions
2/3 cup of your favorite dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
4 cups of frozen strawberries
1 cup of Vanilla Yogurt (I like Stonyfield Farms organic French Vanilla)
3 cups of Milk (almond milk or soy milk are also good)

Now- here's the super easy part- throw it all in your blender, hold your lid on tight and pulse.  I started mine on the chop or low setting for a few minutes before upping it to blend until smooth. 

 My husband and I don't drink wine but we have some wine glasses my mother in law gave us a couple of years ago so whenever it's a special occasion or we make fun drinks, the kids like when I put it in the "fancy glasses" so I did this and topped each off with 3 dark chocolate chips on top. 

Enjoy your special Valentine's Day drink!



  1. What an amazing woman you are Tiffany. I thank God for his protection over you, and I thank you for sharing your personal story and this valuable information with us. I can't wait to try your Valentine smoothie, and I'll be wearing red for you this Friday! ~Katie

    1. <3 Thank you so much Katie! You're a blessing to me and it means a lot that you'll wear red on Friday!

  2. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes for the things you have survived and overcome to be there for your family. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I will be wearing red on Friday to show my support for you and to help educate other women to this potential threat. ♥


    1. Sonja, your words touch me! I'm truly blessed to have such amazing friends and readers all willing to wear red, this is how we accomplish our goals and get the word out! Thank you! <3

  3. Tiffany, what a brilliant post. I'm so sorry that you had to experience this--but I'm so grateful you've written such an incredible piece to help others. I will most definitely wear red in your honor on Friday. Thank you so much for helping to educate all of us. (Thank goodness for,your brilliant doctor! Your family is beautiful.)

    1. Aww, Julie! Thank you! I'm so excited that so many of you'll are wearing red on Friday! This is what it's all about ladies! Ensuring other women have easier access to care and proper treatment! I can't thank you enough! <3

  4. Tiffany, I'll be wearing red in your honor on Friday, too. God works in wondrous ways--as evidenced by the doctor coming to your town at just the right time. Thank you for having the courage to share your story.

  5. Tiffany, your story needs to be told and told often. My family has a history of early heart disease so I am aware of my risks. too many women are being misdiagnosed even in our "enlightened" age. thank you for sharing your story you did it well.

  6. I was just 24 years old when I began having problems. Dizziness, fainting, racing heart, sudden severe headaches, palpitations, flushing.... From the start I told the doctors that there was significant heart disease in my family, but I kept getting put off. The doctors would tell me that I was too young for heart problems, and usually by the time I got to the hospital, many times by ambulance, the "episodes" would be subsiding.

    Doctors labeled me with anxiety and depression and after that no doctor would take me seriously. Now I was a new mom with two small children to care for, worked part-time and my husband and I were in the process of building a home. Yes, I had stress in my life, but I knew the difference between when I was anxious, down and when I got the attacks.

    To make a long story short, these episodes continued and increased. My husband thought I was nutty and the longer it went on and I got no help.. the more I thought I was too. I eventually did get very depressed. Everything led to my marriage falling apart, me almost killing myself because I wanted it to stop, and nearly losing my children.

    In 1998 I had my 3rd child.. after a very horrible pregnancy in and out of hospital. I was so weak that I could barely take care of myself let alone my kids. Within 5 months of having my baby I couldn't get off the couch without nearly fainting. All this time the doctors kept telling me it was depression and anxiety and kept pushing different pills. Finally one day, my doctor listened and sent me to a cardiologist. I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia. Within days I was having surgery to correct the problem. Later I was told that I came very close to dying.

    It has been 14 years since I had the surgery. I still get occassional episodes but not nearly like they were. To this day I panic when my heart skips a beat or I get a twinge in my chest.. I have made a point of fighting for other women and for doctors to listen to us and not label us crazy when we KNOW something is wrong. Because of me, my sister was able to avoid what I went through. My children are monitored for any sign that they may get what I had. I also helped another woman who was ready to commit suicide to get the help she needed when doctors would not listen to her and kept telling her it was in her head.

    Women stand up for yourselves. No one knows your body better than you. Trust your instincts!!!