This is What I learned When I Had a Heart Attack at 39

Think it can't happen to you? A health crisis might be closer than you think.

As a relatively healthy person, fun-loving mom, and hard-working editor at a parenting magazine no less, I thought I had my life under control—not to mention physically I was at a normal weight with no immediate family history of heart disease. Little did I know that stress would be a major contributor to my heart-health crisis.


I remember a couple months before my heart attack, I felt a heavy tightness across my chest that I had never felt before—like someone had wrapped a belt around my back to the front of my breasts and was pulling hard to see if they would pop. It was Christmas morning 2012 and we were sitting having breakfast. The feeling was very foreign, but the strange thing was that the holidays didn’t seem any more stressful than past years, so I ignored the warning. After all, aren’t holidays hectic for everyone?

And again, after our family returned from a trip to Florida a few weeks later, I started having those heart-racing episodes three to four times a week. I was also having more headaches than usual along with aches and pains in my upper body. As a physically fit person, I couldn’t understand why I was tired all the time. Then one morning at work, for no apparent reason, I had a panic attack standing in line at the cafeteria. On the menu: shortness of breath, fast and furious heart palpitations, and even the sweats! I was ready to run for the hills.

Like I mentioned, these events were not usual for me because I’m not a smoker, not overweight, and have always considered myself a fairly healthy person.

What was going on?

I really do regret not going to the hospital during all of those warning situations. It was stupid of me not to follow my intuition but my ego got the best of me and I kept telling myself I was okay. There’s NO WAY this was a heart attack or stroke, or God forbid, a hot flash. I was way too young, too fit, too strong, too tough, and too busy to deal with an annoying health issue. There was just no way!

After my diagnosis, I found a new way.

I soon realized that the way I had been living my life—and not taking care of me—was the enabler of this horrific eye opener. However, it was the saving grace that changed my life for the better. I truly believe that my heart attack saved my life.

The toxins that had built up inside me over the years were coming out in droves. The pressure I was always putting on myself to do more, be more, and become more personally and professionally was building by the day, the month, the year—and stress was becoming my nemesis. I still think I found out about my congenital heart condition in my late thirties because it was the exact wake-up call I needed at that time in my life. The build up was getting the best of me because I wasn’t slowing down. Never!

Then came the realization that if I didn’t have a major scare; who knows what might have happened? I knew I was lucky that my body took a stand the way it did because otherwise it could have taken a final tumble.

The attack got my attention, and surgery fixed the problem physically—but I was still healing emotionally and left with only one choice, which was to change the way I was living my life. The first step was to deal with my daily stress, which might just be the same as your daily stress. However, I had to understand what stress was all about in the first place…


Besides the obvious, like quitting smoking or eliminating drinking (both of which take a lot of time, dedication, and hard work), there are a few simple things you can do to help eliminate stress in your life without breaking the bank:

1. Clean Out the Clutter

Go through your social media accounts and get rid of any unnecessary news feeds or “friends” that are adding more stress to your day. Ex boyfriends (unless you have a civil relationship and you feel some innate need to stay in touch), people you weren’t even friends with in high school, or old colleagues that you befriended because you felt obligated to stay connected.

2. Cross Off Your To-Do List

Not just because you did the things you set out to do, but rather because you haven’t gotten to them yet. Too many loose ends and nagging to-do lists will continue to weigh on your mind.

3. Nix the Mom Guilt

Your kids will love you no matter what you do or don’t do. If you miss a few hockey games or basketball practices, they’ll get over it quickly enough when you go the next time. Make sure the quality time spent with your kids is what’s most memorable.

4. If You Have to Work, Do Something You Enjoy

Easier said than done but it’s important. Learn to recognize if you’re in a job that’s good (or not good) for your mental or physical health. The added pressure in the workplace on top of your already incredible workload can create possible stress buildup over time.

5. Do Some Things Great—Not All Things Good

Prioritizing your personal projects at home or with the family can be agonizing when there’s so much you want to do, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Remember to do some things for YOU, too.

For more on Kerrie Lee Brown’s real-life heart-health story, differences between men and women when it comes to heart attacks and strokes, and what is good and bad stress, pick up “My Heart, My Self – A Guide For Women Who Do Too Much” on Amazon. Also, find out “10 Signs You Need To Slow Down” and why your health is critical to achieving overall joy and happiness.



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Kerrie Lee Brown has a passion for health and wellness that spans almost two decades. Her unique experience and perspective on the demands women put on themselves has positioned Kerrie as an expert on maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Besides writing for various mainstream magazines, including Chatelaine, Best Health, Glow, Women’s Running, etc., she has appeared on numerous television and radio shows as a health and lifestyle expert.

Kerrie Lee Brown is best known for her roles as editor-in-chief of Oxygen Women’s Fitness, founding editor of the men’s title American Health & Fitness, and executive editor at Today’s Parent magazine. Today she is a freelance writer/editor and the author of “My Heart, My Self: A Guide For Women Who Do Too Much” based on her real-life story of having heart surgery at age 39 combined with practical tips on how women can slow down and examine their own daily stressors to lead happier, healthier lives.

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