We Never Think It’s Us

By Megan Willome

Two people recover from heart attacks in their 40s

Pictured: Photos by Breanne Johnson, breannejohnsonphoto.com

The incidence of heart disease is increasing in adults between the ages of 35 and 59, for men and women — even in people who appear to be in good health.

“We never think it’s us,” said Tami Nutt, who experienced a heart attack at age 46. “We have to advocate for ourselves. We have to understand our body, know what is normal, and articulate that in language the medical community understands,” she said. “The more facts we can give them, the better they’re able to treat us.”

Broken heart syndrome, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, usually occurs after someone experiences trauma. But for Nutt, senior HR technology analyst for Aspect 43, she and some friends were dancing at a silent disco at her church, following a marriage conference when she felt lightheaded.

“At the hospital they kept asking me, ‘Did you have some sort of tragedy happen?’ I said, ‘I’m a Baptist girl dancing in church. That’s a little bit traumatic, but not enough to give me a heart attack,’” Nutt said.

The dancing did bring on nausea, but Nutt assumed she was out of dancing shape and perhaps had eaten too many M&Ms. Once she was home, she took her blood pressure and recognized her numbers were, as she says, “way, way, way high.” She also had a pain in her shoulder, but not associated with a muscle, along with a twinge in her neck.

“I’ve always paid close attention to the Go Red for Women campaign [from the American Heart Association]. The signs for women tend to be different than what we see on TV,” Nutt said. “Within an hour of me recognizing the symptoms, I was at the ER, getting treatment, which dramatically reduced any damage to the heart.”

Nutt did not need stents, but she did need medication to remove the fluid that was putting pressure on her heart. She now follows up with a cardiologist every three months.

Like most women she knows in her age group, Nutt says she deprioritized her own health.

“I tend to go, go, go. We women tend to just push through rather than really focusing on our wellbeing and what our body should feel like,” she said. “The reason I paid such close attention to the symptoms from Go Red was so I could be aware for my friends and loved ones. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d need to know it for myself.”

Nutt was born with a congenital heart defect, which was corrected 20 years earlier. At the time of her heart attack she was in good health — normal heart rate, normal blood pressure. She ate well and did not have a family history of heart disease.

“The worst thing I had going on at the time was cedar allergies,” Nutt said. Her heart attack was in January 2023.

Since then one of the ways she takes care of herself is by getting a massage each month. Nutt also has decreased her intake of sodium and walks her dogs more often.

“It’s not some lofty exercise routine,” she said. “We think we have to do something really dramatic — go work out all the time, and that’s good, if that’s what you can do. You can also do something that’s attainable and repeatable in your regular life’s routine.”

Nutt recommends that every home have a blood pressure cuff and that people check their blood pressure regularly and become familiar with their numbers.

“Everyone has thermometers at home, and we know what a normal temp is,” she said. “We’re more likely to suffer from a blood pressure issue than a fever.”

According to heart.org, normal blood pressure is below 120/80mm/HG.

Nutt also says it’s important for women to be intentional about building community as a way to care for themselves in the midst of life’s ebbs and flows.

“We’ve found that in our church. We’re designed to live in community. That is part of self-care as well,” she said. “While I was in the hospital and the week afterward, we relied on that community to help, even though we have family here.”

At age 44, Lonnie Bradley, Creative Director and Designer, had already made a significant turn toward
self-care: he’d incorporated walking into his daily routine, both to and from work. But one day while headed home for lunch, he felt lightheaded.

“I was carrying a cup with me, and it was almost like I couldn’t carry it anymore, it was so heavy,” he said.

Once he reached home, he sat on the couch, and the pain went away. It came back — much stronger — the following morning, and Bradley woke up his wife and asked her to drive him to the hospital. Initially all the tests looked normal. A nurse even joked with Bradley that he must have had indigestion. But then the results of his blood work came back.

“They came in real fast and said, ‘Hey, you had a real heart attack. We gotta go now,’” Bradley said. “They took me straight to the cath lab, rushed me back, prepped me, did a heart cath. Immediately they said, ‘We gotta put stents in.’”

One of his main arteries was blocked in two places: 90% in one spot and 99% in the other. He went through cardiac rehab and continues taking prescribed medication, although he’s been able to drop to a low-dose aspirin as a blood thinner after losing 50 pounds. He’s also changed his eating.

“They recommend the Mediterranean diet after any heart issue. Overall it’s been a huge change for me. It’s changed my taste buds, for sure. I’ve pretty much cut out sodium altogether,” he said.

Bradley and his wife have also started walking together, often in Cameron Park.

“It’s strange how lucky Waco is to have Cameron Park, right in the middle of everything. I would never have gone to it before or even considered wanting to do that,” he said.

Bradley was in good health before his heart attack, and other than a couple of male cousins, no one in his family had experienced heart disease. He wasn’t on any medications.

“Looking back on it I had other symptoms that have now gone away — bad headaches every day. But I sit in front of a computer monitor every day,” he said, explaining why he dismissed the signs. He also ignored frequently feeling tired. “It’s hard to say what level of getting tired was the result of heart disease or of me being overweight,” he said.

Bradley admits he was not good about getting regular checkups because he had no health concerns.

“Nothing was on the radar.

If nothing was wrong, I had other things to do,” he said. “Really, it’s important to make sure you’re looking after yourself, getting those checkups on a regular basis because you don’t know what’s going to pop up.”

As a laidback person, Bradley has never been one to internalize a lot of stress. But now when things do become a little hectic at work, he’ll get outside and go for a walk.

“That’s my favorite stress reducer,” he said. “I notice a difference just in getting outside.”

Tami’s Lifestyle Changes:

Reduced sodium intake
Frequently walking the dogs
Checking blood pressure regularly

Lonnie’s Lifestyle Changes:

Reduced sodium intake
Regular health checkups
Frequent walks
Switched to the Mediterranean Diet

According to mayoclinic.org, the Mediterranean Diet is a heart healthy way of eating that is not restrictive but instead relies on the way of eating from the Mediterranean region where cardiovascular disease is much lower. The foundation is plant-based foods with meat in moderation.

There’s no single set of meals for the Mediterranean Diet but there’s a list of guidelines that are easy to follow:
• Vegetables
• Fruits
• Whole grains
• Beans
• Nuts and seeds
• Olive oil
• Seasoning with herbs and spices

The main steps to follow the diet include:
• Each day, eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based fats.
• Each week, have fish, poultry, beans, legumes and eggs.
• Enjoy moderate portions of dairy products.
• Limit how much red meat you eat.
• Limit how many foods with added sugar you eat.

Some other elements of the Mediterranean diet are to:
• Share meals with family and friends.
• Get regular exercise.
• Enjoy wine in moderation if you drink alcohol.

Heart Health Statistics

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) was listed as the underlying cause of death for 928,741 deaths in the U.S. in 2020 (American Heart Association)

CVD accounted for approximately 19.05 million global deaths in 2020 (American Heart Association)

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. according to 2020 data (American Heart Association)

In 2020 stroke accounted for approximately 1 of every 21 deaths in the U.S. (American Heart Association)

On average in 2020, someone died of stroke every 3 minutes 17 seconds in the U.S. (American Heart Association)

One person dies every 33 seconds in the U.S. from CVD (CDC)

Heart Disease costs the U.S 239.9 billion each year from 2018-2019, this includes the cost of healthcare services, medicine and lost productivity due to death (CDC)

In the U.S., someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds, and each year, about 805k people in the United States have a heart attack (CDC)

Coronary Heart Disease is the most common type of heart disease (CDC)

1 in 20 adults age 20 and older have Coronary Artery Disease (CDC)