The medical journey I just experienced is so wonderfully bizarre that I want to record it for posterity. And give God the glory.
Even though I turn 60 this summer and have a genetic condition that causes my liver to make WAY too much bad cholesterol–I now have the heart and arteries of an 18 year old!
I never gave my heart health much thought until I had some bloodwork done in January. I went to see a new doctor who supposedly specialized in sleep disorders. I wanted to have my cortisol levels tested and try to figure out a way to get off sleep meds. The doc told me about a research project they were partnering with, sponsored by the Boston Heart Lab.
“You’d get over $5,000 dollars worth of tests run for free,” she offered. “It will show what’s going on with your heart and lipid levels.”
Not one to turn down free stuff, I accepted and gave six vials of blood. Didn’t think much about it until I was out snow shoeing with friends a week later and started having chest pains.
“I think I’m having a heart attack!” I told my husband, as I slumped forward. on the steep incline, trying to get my breath. Intense pain gripped my chest, radiated up into my neck and jaw and down my left arm.
Before Greg could even devise a plan to drag me off the slope, the pain vanished as quickly as it had come. It was a beautiful day and the mountain beckoned so we finished our Trek without further incident. I just figured it was indigestion or something . . .
But a few days later, I got the results of the lab work. Everything looked great . . . except for my insanely high cholesterol, imflamation (which indicated the possible blockage of arteries), and a gene (APOE4) that predisposes to heart disease and Alzheimers. The chest pain from our recent trek came back into sharp focus, as did similar incidents over the years that I’d ignored.
Honestly, I was way more concerned about the gene’s link to Alzheimers than heart disease. My uncle Pat died of ALZ at the very young age of 68. The doc, however, brushed my worries aside with the statement: “I’m much more concerned about you having a stroke or heart attack. If you don’t get those bad cholesterol numbers down, you won’t have to worry about Alzheimers. Unfortunately, the APOE4 gene causes your liver to overproduce cholesterol. Diet and lifestyle changes don’t have much effect–even statins can’t always lower LDL to see levels.”
Since this doc wasn’t a heart specialist, she referred me to a naturopathic cardiologist. I wanted to go a more “natural” route, since I’d read that statins had been linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s. I really liked the guy, but after reading over my test results, he looked me in the eye and said, “You have to take statins. You have Familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition that makes you 22 times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.”
After that sobering pronouncement, he referred me to another cardiologist for further testing (since we found out on the way to his office that our insurance didn’t cover him or any natural medicine practitioner). He also told me to limit my physical exertion, since I’d been experiencing increasing chest pain associated with exercise.
“Only 40-60% of what you normally do,” he advised. “And stop if you have any pain or discomfort.”
I made an appointment to see Dr. Banitt this past Thursday. I felt so crappy that morning, experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath while raking leaves, that I actually packed a small bag in case I failed heart tests and was admitted. Extreme anxiety gripped my chest as we drove to his office.
He asked me the usual questions and expressed deep concern at my lipid levels and increasing bouts of angina. At first he scheduled me for a heart stress test, to look for blockages, but then changed his mind.
“I have no doubt we’ll find blockages, based on your genetics, cholesterol levels and chest pain,” he stated. “I think you should skip the tests and do an angiogram as soon as possible. It will show us where the blockages are, and I can put in stents to open them up during the procedure.”
Greg, who’d been more concerned over the condition of my heart and arteries than I was, jumped at that option. In shock and outnumbered, I meekly agreed and scheduled the procedure for Monday morning.
“And NO strenuous activities!” The doc warned. “Take it easy until Monday. I’m calling in some nitroglycerin to your pharmacy. Take it whenever you feel chest pain.”
I decided not to mention I was taking care of my grandkids all weekend . . .
We scheduled the procedure and headed home, getting caught in rush hour traffic. The mild chest discomfort and anxiety I’d experienced most of the afternoon increased exponentially as we crept along the freeway. I took half a Xanax, assuming the pain was stress-related. The pain level kept increasing, so I told Greg just to head for the pharmacy. Hopefully the nitro would help.
Poor Greg. He prayed for me as he navigated traffic and tried to decide if he should just pull over and call 911 or get me to the nearest hospital. In the end, we made it to my pharmacy and I popped the little white pill under my tongue as Greg drove home. No relief.
“The pharmacist said you should take another after five minutes if you don’t feel better,” Greg told me. “You can take up to three, then call 911 if that doesn’t help.”
We got home and I took another pill as I settled on my couch. I let out a deep sigh of relief as the pain let up this time. In fact, I felt so much better, we decided to head to food carts for dinner, to take advantage of this glorious spring day.
But the chest pain returned with a vengeance just as we pulled onto the freeway. I popped a third nitro, but the pain and my panic increased.
“OK, we are going to the hospital,” Greg decided. Adventist was just five minutes away, so he parked in front of ER and Walked me in
“This is probably just indigestion,” I protested. “I can just wait until Monday.”
Ignoring my protests, Greg walked me to the registration desk and explained my symptoms. Fifteen minutes later, I was hooked up to a heart monitor. Even though the EKG and bloodwork came back normal, the cardiologist on call decided to admit me and move the angiogram up to the next day. My chest pains continued, but settled down after a fourth nitro pill and baby aspirin.
As soon as I got to my room, I put out a prayer request on Facebook and emailed a few of my prayer warrior peeps. My chest pain vanished and I felt a deep peace I hadn’t known for days. I felt fine physically, too, and tried to talk Greg into springing me from the hospital. But he insisted I listen to the professionals and go through with the procedure.
Surrounded by the love and prayers of family and friends, I actually grabbed a bit of sleep during the night. I was wheeled into a room for the angiogram at 9:30, had a brief visit with my doctor, nodded off and woke to the words, “Everything looked great! You have the heart and arteries of an eighteen year old!”
I was released later that day, but not until my cholesterol levels were checked again. To everyone’s surprise, the numbers of the bad lipids had dropped significantly.
“You weren’t even fasting,” my nurse explained. “The actual numbers are probably quite a bit lower.”
So, what’s the deal, then? I asked every medical person who would listen. Why is there not the slightest build up of plaque in my heart or arteries when I have this deadly genetic condition? What caused my chest pain and other alarming symptoms? Why the heck have my cholesterol numbers improved so much without me ever taking cholesterol-lowering medication?
The lack of answers convinced me of what I already knew–Jesus healed me! I am not sure why I had to go through that whole traumatic episode, except for the fact that my faith in the One who heals has gone from my head to my heart.