Margaret’s story

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Margaret was young, fit and otherwise healthy but suffered a major heart attack that could have devastated her life. Listen to Margaret’s heart attack story and how cardiac rehabilitation gave her the tools she needed to get her confidence back.

My first heart attack was, as you might imagine, quite a harrowing experience. I would never have dreamed that at 35 years of age I was susceptible to a heart attack.

I had been getting dreadful angina, particularly when walking. I'd walk my young son, who was seven at the time, to school and just about pass out. I’d get to school and think “I’m unfit, I've got to get fitter.”So I worked harder to get my fitness level up. I didn’t’ have any idea that those pains I was getting, and the breathlessness and the dizziness, was me teetering on the edge of disaster.

The day of my heart attack, very good friends had invited us out onto their cruiser on the Sydney harbour. I was very much looking forward to the day. We got on board and as our trip progressed I started to feel quite ill and I put it down to actually being a bit motion sick. We went to a restaurant at Darling Harbor and I was at a point then where I couldn't eat. I felt horribly sick but was still putting it down to being motion sick. We got back onboard the boat and went touring around the harbour a little more and it was then that I started to get a tightness in the chest.

The pain went up the left side of my neck, around my jaw and down my back. I started having trouble breathing. Then I started to feel very, very nauseous and wanted to be sick. It wasn’t until I felt this crushing feeling, like the most incredible weight was crushing me, that I realised “this is a heart attack, we've got to do something quickly.”

Every heart attack can be different. Not everyone feels the same things, but that's how it was for me. By the time I got to the hospital, I had passed out. I remember my very last thought being “this is it, I'm gone” and that was an incredibly scary feeling. It all seems to happen so quickly. The pain is so incredibly intense, you can't imagine your body going through anymore. You really do think “this is it and I haven't had a chance to say goodbye to anyone or do all the things that I wanted to do or be with my child.”

Afterwards, I still thought death was imminent, even though I was being cared for very well by fantastic cardiologists. Initially, I didn't know how far I could walk after having the heart attack. I didn't know how far I could physically push myself. Could I pick things up? Could I do housework? Could I work again?

Rehab provides you with a program that not only strengthens you physically but also gets your mind around what you've been through. It taught me what I could do after having a heart attack and how far I should go. It gave me the confidence to do things. I feel it's imperative to go through a rehabilitation program for your physical well-being but very much for mental well-being as well because having a heart attack is a huge hit to deal with mentally.

I am quite possibly here today because of research and because of advances that scientists and cardiac researchers have made over the years.

This isn't just an older person's disease, it can affect younger people of any age.

People need to know that heart attacks are the biggest killer of women in Australia over and above breast cancer and many other diseases.

Learn how cardiac rehabilitation can help you, or find a cardiac rehabilitation service online. You can also call the Heart Foundation Helpline 13 11 12 for help finding a service near you.