Heart Disease

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After surviving a rare coronary artery dissection and massive heart attack while nine months pregnant, Nefertari has devoted her life to uplifting other heart patients and promoting heart health awareness.

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Heat, Fluids, and Congestive Heart Failure

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I've a been heart attack survivor for about 4 years now. When I was battling for my life in the critical care unit of the hospital at The University of Pennsylvania, I went into a condition called flash pulmonary edema. This happens when the heart is too weak to pump efficiently, causing fluid to back up into the lungs. You feel like you're drowning. Luckily, I was being attended to by one of the best medical teams in the world so each time it happened they were able to get the fluid out of my lungs and allow me to breathe freely once again.

There are certain traumatic experiences that your body and your mind are able to forget. Childbirth, for example -- when we give birth, our brains undergo changes that direct our attention away from what's happened (and still happening) to our bodies, allowing us to focus on nurturing this new baby. 

This was not one of those experiences. I will do anything to prevent it from happening again. (Unlike childbirth when within six weeks, some of us are right back at it.)

Flash pulmonary edema can be minimized if there is a proper balance. If I follow doctor's orders, take my meds, and reduce fluid intake, I reduce my chances of having that feeling that my head is being held under water. Preventing this condition is one of the many things that I take very seriously since my heart attack.

Recently my doctor changed my fluid intake from limited to almost non-existent. This has decreased my symptoms significantly. There was a time when I could drink a half of a bottled water and feel fine. Now, if I drink that much fluid I feel congested and begin to cough.

I can tell that this concept -- limiting fluid intake -- is very hard for people to understand. When you hear someone cough, the first instinct is usually to offer them some water. When I tell my friends and family that I can not drink any water they are very shocked...until I give the drowning analogy,that is. Then everyone seems to show a little empathy.

As an "atypical" heart patient, I find myself feeling the need to explain myself or justify my actions on occasions. For example, I tried to explain to a group of friends why I could not attend an outdoor event in the heat. They were more than accommodating. Their solution:  a chair and lots of bottled water. My first thought was, "Here we go again...they are trying to kill me."

To some of us with congestive heart failure, fluids can be the enemy. My friends now understand that when the temperature rises, the only remedy for me is cold air and lots of rest.

Despite what I went through and how I struggled and fought to stay alive, I do on occassion have a moment when the thirst tries to get the best of me. The temptation to drink a nice cold bottle of refreshing water just seems so right. So in a way, I guess I'm a little thankful that I will never forget the drowning feeling I had in the hospital. Although I know that I may never be cured of this condition, I also know that there are ways to live a long, symptom-free life --  and watching my fluid intake is one of them.

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Tags: Learning Limitations

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About the Author

After surviving a heart attack, Nefertari has devoted her life to promoting heart health awareness.

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