Carol Werger is grateful to be alive.
“How lucky am I to have what I have,” she told Global News.
The Kelowna woman has survived six heart attacks, with her first at age 48.
“I was very fit. I exercised every morning, I went to aerobics twice a week, I did my walking, I did my hiking,” she said. “I ate properly, I have always been a health nut, so for me to have a heart attack was something really strange.”
After the first two heart attacks, Werger was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Fibromuscular Dysplasia.
It’s a condition which causes her arteries to be brittle and dissect or split.
Werger shared her story with Global News so that others learn from it, especially the part about listening to your body.
That’s something she said she didn’t do when heart attack No. 3 came.
“I ignored all the signs. I was pretty certain it was a heart attack,” she said. “It was the night before my last day at work and I didn’t want to go through all the fuss and I wanted to finish my last day of work.
“I was always a very loyal employee.”
Three more heart attacks followed, the last one happening at the hospital while she was under observation.
“I remember the surgeon coming to me when I was getting ready to go into the operating room. ‘You might not make it,’” she said.
She said all too often, women don’t seek out medical help when they should.
“Fifty-three per cent of women, when they experience heart attack symptoms it goes unrecognized or untreated, minimized,” she said. “We think that we can just push through it, and that it’s not as bad as we think it is.”
That’s something the Heart and Stroke Foundation is working hard at to change.
“It’s really important for women to recognize the specific heart attack symptoms that they experience because it’s different than men,” Slade said.
“It’s not the traditional Hollywood, clutch the chest fall to the floor. You could experience tightening of the jaw, pain in your shoulder, a pressure in your chest but not necessarily that isolated pain — also loss of vision, sweating, lightheaded.”
Slade said that women’s heart health needs a lot more research and awareness, because for a long time clinical research was predominantly done on men.
“Because women were thought of as men with pesky hormones, we’re the same,” said Slade.
“Because we have cycles, it’s harder to do clinical studies on, it’s harder to get a control group. So you know what? It’s close enough. Spoiler alert it’s not. Women are under-diagnosed, under-researched, under-treated and they’re dying unnecessarily.”
Werger said she’s one of the lucky ones.
What makes her story even more remarkable is that before she had her first heart attack, she canvassed for the Heart and Stroke Foundation for research money for nearly two decades.
“It’s kind of like full circle,” she said. “Here I was, helping other people and I ended up benefitting from the money collected for research for the condition I had.”
An upcoming event in Kelowna will help raise awareness and money for research, with an emphasis on women’s heart health.
The Red Dress Gala is hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. It takes place on October 26 at the Manteo Resort. Tickets are still available. Click here for more information.
Click here for more information about women’s heart health.