February is American Heart Month: Heart attack survivor is happy to celebrate

Claremont resident Carol Wiese nearly died from a heart attack six years ago, just 14 months after her twin sister died from a heart attack. Photo/courtesy of Carol Wiese

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but that’s no reason to stop thinking about matters of the heart, because February is American Heart Month.

Heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States for more than 70 years, but it has also been in steady decline for decades, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. This decline has largely been driven by increased understanding of the root causes of heart disease, most notably smoking and high blood pressure.

A fact sheet from the National Institute of Health recommends getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, being more active, controlling cholesterol, managing stress and blood sugar, monitoring blood pressure, and quitting smoking as key factors in promoting heart health.

Longtime Claremont resident Carol Wiese would like to add another risk factor to the list: one’s family.

“I have come to the conclusion, and I was told, that heart health is 90% heredity and 10% what you do,” Wiese said.

She has a unique perspective on heart disease because on February 22, 2018 she nearly died after suffering a “widow maker” heart attack at 62 while walking in the hills above Claremont.

Her husband Bill called 911 and she was transported to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. An angiogram showed the three main arteries to her heart were blocked.

“They had to put in two stents. That’s when I coded the first time,” she said at a June 2019 meeting of The University Club of Claremont, using the medical term for a patient who has no heartbeat and is not breathing. “My heart stopped another two times while they attempted to open the artery. Apparently, I coded again the next day.”

After two months in the hospital her doctors fast-tracked Wiese for both heart and kidney transplants, which saved her life.

Her conviction that genetics played a big role in her heart attack came from experience. Her twin sister died after suffering a heart attack 14 months before Weise was stricken. Now she recommends that anyone with a family history of heart disease be sure to tell a physician and monitor one’s own vitals such as blood pressure and pulse.

The National Institute of Health’s food plan,“Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” recommends eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, poultry and beans while avoiding full fat dairy, sugary beverages, fatty meats, and sweets. It also suggests limiting your weekly sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams.

The NIH also recommends adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week such as a brisk walk, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise like running.

“Sit less! Take the stairs. Park farther away. March in place or take a walk around the block,” reads the NIH heart action fact sheet.

It also cautions that even occasional smoking can damage the heart.

Before her heart attack, Wiese was no couch potato. In fact she walked five to seven miles with a group of friends three times a week, and did Pilates. She also did not have the common symptoms that signal a heart attack is immanent. Wiese said her sister thought she had the flu leading up to her heart attack.

Wiese changed her diet, giving up her beloved milk chocolate for the dark variety, and continues to exercise regularly.

“The Mediterranean diet is the best healthy heart diet,” she said, adding she regularly eats leafy greens, whole grains, berries, fatty fish, and tomatoes, and drinks green tea.

She recommends people have their heart tested every year, and if you have a family history of heart disease that might include an angiogram. Prior to her heart attack doctors said her heart appeared strong, so she declined an angiogram, which could have spotted the trouble that almost cost her life.

Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce stress on the heart. The NIH suggests monitoring one’s body mass index using its calculator at nhlbi.nih.gov/health to ensure your BMI stays within the healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9.

Wiese said there may have been other factors that could have weakened her heart as well,  including the fact that both of her parents smoked, as she did until she quit more than 30 years ago. Also, along with her twin she was born three months premature and lived for a while in an incubator.


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