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Incredible Mom Suffered Three Heart Attacks in One Week

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At the age of 36, happily married mom of three Sally Bee suffered three major heart attacks in the space of one week. She had never smoked, didn't drink and was perfectly fit. Five years later, she's vital and healthy and her recovery is nothing short of a miracle.

Sally Bee
For Sally, the most important thing during her recovery (when she thought that she wouldn't be around much longer) was sitting down and eating with her family every night. To save her heart, Sally needed to eat healthfully, and also cook meals that her kids and husband liked, too. The result was "The Secret Ingredient" cookbook, in which she shares mouthwatering and heart-healthy recipes. 

We sat down with Sally to talk about her new healthy life and what it's like to be given a second chance.

momlogic: Looking back now, were there any signs that could have warned you of your impending heart attacks? 

Sally Bee: No signs at all. I was fit -- or so I thought -- so the heart attacks came completely out of the blue. My cardiologists say that even if I had seen them that morning, they could not have known that I was about to have a heart attack (or three!).

ml: Did you know you were having them when they came on?

SB: I didn't know at the time, although now I know what the common symptoms are, and I would recognize them. I had never known anyone who'd had a heart attack before, so the whole thing was completely new to me. Even when the second heart attack happened, I still didn't believe I was having one, since I had been told it was probably indigestion!

ml: What are the odds of having three heart attacks in one week?!

SB: Pretty rare, to say the least! Having one would have been a shock; two, unlucky ... but three was just a little too much to take! I didn't have heart disease that was causing the attacks, but rather a condition that caused the main artery in my heart to fall apart. This is why the heart attacks kept coming. It would tear and cause a blockage and a heart attack, and then calm down. But obviously, with me it happened three times. If my artery had dissected just in one section, the doctors would have been able to do a bypass, but because it had ripped the entire length of the artery, my husband was told to come and say goodbye, as it was thought I couldn't possibly survive.

ml: So tell us what happened.

SB: On a lovely sunny day at a child's birthday party, I was talking with friends and my husband, Dogan, laughing and watching the children play. Then suddenly I felt extremely poorly. I rushed to the bathroom and collapsed on the floor, feeling as if my chest was being crushed and struggling to breathe. The pain was worse than giving birth to any of my three babies. An ambulance arrived, and I was rushed to the hospital. The crew managed to calm me down and took an ECG, which is a measurement of the heartbeat. They said that there was a slight abnormality, but because of my young age, my healthy lifestyle and no family history of heart problems, they were happy to rule out anything serious there and then. After a few hours in the hospital, I was eventually sent home with some indigestion medicine! 

I spent the next few days recovering and feeling traumatized by the whole event. I could not put my finger on it, but I felt something had changed. A couple of days later, the pain hit me again while I was cleaning up the kitchen. Each breath was tight and so painful. My husband called the ambulance again, and events at the hospital this time started to unravel like a really bad soap opera. I felt like I was not being taken seriously, and I was left alone in my room, suffering in agony. 

Eventually, a nurse took my ECG, and her jaw dropped. Suddenly the room was buzzing with people. At one point, I had three cardiologists looking at my heart trace chart, saying it was telling them that I was having a heart attack, but they didn't believe it because of my age and lifestyle. The next day, the doctors told me I'd suffered a serious heart attack. I was relieved that I had survived, but felt numb with disbelief. Throughout the day, I started to suffer more chest pains. I was moved to the Cardiac Care Unit because I needed to be monitored constantly. At one point, a nurse took a scan of my heart; she was shocked. It was the most excessive damage she had ever seen in anyone so young.

I continued to deteriorate and was moved into the Coronary Care High Dependency Unit. The doctors managed to stabilize me enough to move me to another hospital for an angiogram. At this point, I was in and out of consciousness, barely hanging on. The surgeon started the procedure, putting a small incision in my groin. He then fed the line up into my heart to pump the dye in and X-ray the results. I felt close to the edge, but forced myself to continue breathing. Yet I almost gave up when I heard the surgeon swearing under his breath. At this point, I understood how dire my situation was.

ml: How did your family move forward after these events?

SB: At the time of my attacks, my children were 4, 2 and 9 months old, so you can maybe imagine how difficult life was at that time. I cried every time I looked at them, as I was afraid that I wouldn't be around to see them grow up. My recovery was long and slow. First, emotionally I had to get over what had happened to me. I have to admit that I was a wreck at the time, but with the help of my family and friends, I got stronger day by day. Food was my savior, simply because this was something that I could control. Exercise was and still is very important to me. I can't go to the gym or do anything too strenuous, but I walk and swim every day and feel the benefits in real time.

ml: How can the average mom incorporate heart-healthy foods into her family's everyday diet, and what do you want people to take away from your new cookbook?

SB: 
I am an average mum. I am not a chef, I have never had any formal training, we don't have a lot of spare money to spend on expensive ingredients and the children can be fussy eaters at times. So I have the same challenges as everyone else. However, I have some very basic principles that I firmly believe in:

1) We all need nourishment for good health. Food is the only thing that can give us health. Lots of other things can take our health away, but food is the only thing that actually puts good health into our body.

2) I don't count calories; in fact, I believe that calories are our friends. They give us energy and enable us to move about, exercise and get the wonderful health benefits that brings. Of course, it is vitally important that we get our calories from a nourishing source and not by eating empty calories. I would rather have an avocado (approximately 200 calories) for lunch than a Diet Coke (one calorie). The avocado will give me important nutrients and energy and help raise my metabolism to lose any excess weight. The Diet Coke will only feed my body chemicals and will not offer any nutrition at all.

3) My meals need to be quick, easy and affordable. They also need to be enticing for the whole family. Healthy food can taste great! 

4) I don't eat processed food, but that doesn't mean I can't have "convenience" food. What's quicker or more convenient when in a hurry than an apple, a banana and a handful of nuts and raisins, or some whole-wheat pita bread and lowfat hummus? Delicious and healthy!

ml: How has the experience changed you as a person? As a mom? As a wife?

SB: My experience has definitely made me into a different person -- probably a better one! I guess before this happened to me I used to worry about silly things, and I don't think I made the most of every opportunity that came my way. Now I grab every minute of special time I can. My husband is so precious to me -- we lived through the night that I was going to die; that type of experience brought us closer than ever. The children are such a great joy to me every day. If there is some washing up to do, but they want to play ... I play. The washing up can always wait! And what is more important than kids wanting to play with their Mum? Life is very scary at times. I live with a lot of uncertainty, but I believe that I am now in control of my health and my future, instead of it being in control of me. I live my life to the fullest and am determined to make lovely memories for my children. Of course, I hope that I get to share the memories in old age with them, too.


next: Mom to Stepmom: 'Don't Dress My Kid'
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