By the Grace of God

My story begins on January 14, 2018. I was at work and not feeling that great, so I decided to go to my local urgent care after work. My arms were a little sore and I had a headache. I just didn’t feel good.  They took my blood pressure, my vitals, and said that everything looked okay. I had a little bit of heartburn, but no other symptoms. I brushed it off.

As the month went on, I still felt the same, sore arms and heartburn. My coworkers noticed that I kept pushing my shoulder blades back and I would take a deep breath. For me it made me feel better. I really didn’t think too much of it but thought I should go to the doctor and get everything checked out.  The doctor thought maybe I had fallen shoveling snow, but I hadn’t, so she decided that bloodwork might help identify something.

Because of the heartburn she put me on a prescription medication, and I went back to life still feeling the same despite the meds. In March I ended up back at the doctor at the suggestion of my girlfriend since she knew I wasn’t feeling any better. I asked if it was possible, they do an EKG. The results were normal. I was told the symptoms I was feeling could be my gallbladder and they wanted to do an ultrasound and more bloodwork.  I called to book the appointment and was not able to get in for the procedure until mid-April. I then went for my bloodwork where the woman drawing the blood asked if I was able to schedule my ultrasound appointment and when I told her I couldn’t get in until April – she said you really need to get that as soon as possible. They immediately walked me straight to that department and I was able to get the ultrasound and I went back to work.

Tara and Claire

A few days later, my oldest daughter, Claire, had called and said she was coming home from college on Saturday with their boyfriend at the time, so I wanted to prepare a nice dinner. I did all the things a mom would do, pushing myself to go to the grocery store and making all of the preparations despite not feeling great. I remember at dinner; something just didn’t feel right. As my daughter was leaving to go back to college, I remember hugging her, and saying, I don’t know what’s going to happen with me this week. Looking back, I’m not sure why I said that but something in me made me say it, not really knowing what was about to happen to me.

The Stermers, Brian, Tara, Lillian, Carson and Claire

The next morning was Palm Sunday. My youngest daughter Lillian was doing her faith formation classes, and had to sign into church, and since she didn’t have her driver’s license, one of us had to take her.  As we were getting ready to go, my husband Brian was sitting on the couch and said, okay, girls, let’s go to church. The majority of the time he didn’t go to church with us – but he was meant to be there with me that day. I just didn’t know it at that time.

As we sat in the church, I felt like I was having a complete out of body experience. I have never been able to explain it. It felt like I couldn’t sing. I could barely focus on what was happening. I went up for communion, and as soon as we went back to our pew I nudged my daughter, and I said, I’ve got to go. I walked to the back of the church, not even knowing if they were following me. I just knew in a few minutes; everyone would be leaving the church and I wanted to get out of there.  As I reached the doors to the church, I couldn’t walk. I told my husband and he said, “what do you mean you can’t walk?” I had no idea what was happening, but I could barely move.  My husband went to get the car as my daughter stayed with me.

I literally couldn’t make it to the car right outside the door, so my husband picked me up and put me in the car. I kept repeating what is wrong with me. He thought maybe I was having a panic attack, but then it got worse, and he insisted he take me to the hospital which was just a few blocks away. My hands began to curl, panic set in and I was screaming; I thought, “what is happening to me!”

We reached the hospital and they said they would be with me in a few minutes – I could hear myself screaming, “I don’t have a few minutes.” It wasn’t long and I was in a room hooked up to everything at that point and felt like things were getting worse. They were checking my gallbladder report, I had never received the results. At this point, I just kept saying this is the worst feeling I have ever had. But let me tell you – I didn’t have strong chest pain or symptoms you might think were “typical” to a heart attack.

One of the last things I remember – I told my husband that Lillian couldn’t be in the room.  I don’t know if it’s mother’s intuition, but I knew my daughter could not be there. There was no way I could let my daughter see me like that.  No one, especially me had any idea what was going to be happening to me in the next few minutes. My husband walked Lillian out and returned to my room as the ER doctor came in. He stood at the bottom of my bed reporting that my gallbladder test was normal. But that is all I can remember. As I am told, every buzzer went off in the room and I completely flat lined. I was in sudden cardiac arrest. They had to immediately intubate me and shock my heart to bring me back to life.

The next thing I remember, I woke up in a hallway and within 22 minutes was transferred to another

Tara after her stent placement

hospital and was having a heart procedure. I would later find out that my heart was 98% blocked and had survived what is commonly known as the widow maker. The stent placed in my artery saved my life.

By the grace of God, my husband decided to go to church that morning and drive us there, because if I would have driven Lilian and I, the outcome could have been completely different.

I am truly blessed and thankful for the team that helped to save my life and I will forever be grateful for my husband Brian, who realized at that moment that I definitely needed to be in the hospital. Because of this amazing chain of life, I am here today to share my story. I am able to enjoy more time with Brian, my twins Carson and Claire and my daughter, Lillian.

I am so proud to have celebrated my fifth year as a survivor and that I am able to be here to share my journey with others.

If you take anything from my story – please know that you need to be an advocate for yourself. Listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, keep pushing, calling, asking questions.  Know that a women’s symptoms are different than men.  Looking back, I experienced a little jaw pain and night sweats but brushed them off with age or stress. Heartburn, backpain, arm pain – it all makes sense now.

The American Heart Association helped fund the research that led to the procedures that saved my life.  And for that, I am ever grateful.

But most of all, I am grateful to be a survivor.

Clair, Tara and Brian Stermer
Tara speaking at the 2023 Greater Hartford Go Red for Women Luncheon.

Tara recently shared her story at the 2023 Greater Hartford Go Red for Women Luncheon to help raise funds for women focused research, and education.