Around noon on Good Friday 2019, I got the call that changed my world. The voice on the other end of the line was my aunt Wendy. She told me that my mom was in a hospital in Syracuse for a heart attack. She needed open-heart surgery, and she needed it as soon as possible.
Time simultaneously slowed down and sped up. My father had a heart attack 15 years earlier, but he'd only needed a relatively simple stent procedure. It was frightening, he made it out virtually unscathed. This was different. This was the big one: open-heart surgery.
I've talked to other people about their experiences with our medical system, and my mother's story isn't much different from all the others. She had been admitted to that very hospital 1 week prior for chest pains and had been misdiagnosed her with severe heartburn, or GERD. But it turns out that heart attack symptoms display very differently in women than they do in men, making diagnosis more difficult. When she returned to the hospital 1 week later, a staff member called this misdiagnosis a "learning experience"—not exactly what a terrified family wants to hear while their mother waits for surgery.
There were complications. It wasn't a smooth ride. Because it was a holiday weekend, she had to wait 3 full days for surgery. As she waited, her heart stopped, possibly from the medications that were keeping her comfortable and stabilized. The morning before they sawed into my mother's chest, she had to be brought back by CPR which broke her ribs. She then had not 1 bypass, but 5.
Long story short, my mother was in the hospital for 26 days. I spent the days following her procedure watching her writhe in agony. When I came home at night after a day at the hospital, I closed my eyes and saw the thick drainage tubes coming out of her body, dripping pink fluid, her body covered in bruises from the pokes and prods. I heard the echo of beeping monitors and imagined her pained face. My beloved mother didn't deserve this. Nobody does.
At the time of my mother's heart attack, I was wrapping up my course work with the Nutritional Therapy Association's 9-month NTC course. I had just completed the cardiovascular unit, so I was well versed in the best ways to nourish and support heart health with whole foods.
I watched in horror as my mother consumed her "heart-healthy diet" meals. She was allowed to have pancakes or french toast for breakfast, but butter was forbidden and replaced by margarine. She was on a strict low-fat diet, but she was allowed to have dessert at every meal—cookies, pudding, cakes, ice cream. Every meal was carbohydrate-heavy. My NTP knowledge told me that this diet was anti-intuitive: it was composed of foods that cause heart disease, not cure it.
The medical staff saved my mother's life. My family is eternally grateful to them for giving us more time together. However, the lack of true nutritional expertise made it immediately clear to me that the staff had no idea how to support my mother's body's natural ability to heal and balance itself.
I'm sharing my story with you because I believe that all of this could have been prevented with proper nutrition and a focus on holistic wellness. My mother's illness was the most intense time of my life. But it also emphasized the importance of my life's work and mission. The experienced refocused my passion for helping others achieve wellness today and, subsequently, prevent tragedy tomorrow.
My mother's suffering is not in vain. While it is too late for our family to avoid the nightmare of my mother's quintuple bypass, I can learn from her story and help protect YOU from this same fate. Let her story serve as a warning that we could all take better care of ourselves. Sinister health scares like heart attacks, cancers, and strokes happen every day, and sometimes, they don't discriminate. But there are nutritional steps that can be taken to significantly lower your chances of a terrifying event or diagnosis.