A survivor’s story – Debra Becker

Debra Becker is a heart disease survivor. Her guest blog will share her story and advice for others in four installments.

This past October I had unexpected open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve.  Seemingly healthy with no known personal history of heart disease, I exercised

Debra Becker
Debra Becker

regularly and maintained a healthy diet.

What happened?  I had trouble breathing in recovery after a minor exploratory D&C; several major cordae (chords) in my mitral valve had broken.  Chordae are string-like structures that resemble a tiny parachute and act as leaflet anchors, supporting the valve during opening and closing.  The mitral valve is one of four valves in your heart, a gate which controls blood flow between the heart’s left atrium and left ventricle.  Its job is to pump 85% of your blood to the body; when it fails, blood regurgitates into your lungs, depriving the rest of your body of the oxygen it carries.  Physical stress can, over time, cause chordae to snap or break, leading to severe regurgitation.  My surgeon later told me if I hadn’t already been in the hospital, I probably would have been dead on the spot.   It really can happen to anyone, anytime!

I spent three weeks in ICU, where my extraordinary medical team included four highly respected cardiologists.

Luckily, I had no underlying conditions – my healthy lifestyle allowed me to go into surgery physically strong and made my recovery much easier!  I began a Cardiac Rehab program two months after surgery.  Three times a week for three months cardiologists, physical therapists and nurses supervised and observed my exercise, exertion and vitals on a heart monitor, plus weekly educational lectures are included in the program. Quite a change from the Crossfit classes I used to participate in!

I knew lifting heavy weights is effective for bone density and muscle building . . . I’ve learned this also puts immense strain on your heart.  Personal boundaries vary widely and are based on a multitude of factors which your internist or cardiologist is best equipped to address.

Family history is an important indicator of your risk of developing cardiac disease; gather your family’s medical history and share it with your doctors, enabling them to become intimately aware of your genetics and probable risk factors.  As a result of my heart condition, my parents, siblings and 18-year old son scheduled echocardiograms.  Early detection is key, even if symptoms would not surface for decades.  This knowledge allows access to specialists whose guidance will help avert later medical emergencies.

I didn’t realize that the symptoms of heart disease can be very different for women and men, and are often misunderstood. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.  Symptoms are not always severe and may even be subtle.  I experienced unusual fatigue for a couple of years yet neither my doctors nor I associated it with a potential heart condition. To learn more about symptoms of heart disease and to assess your risk, click here to visit the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women.

Thanks for reading my first American Heart Association blog!


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