On a Thursday – six days before she had open heart surgery – Joy Lucas, DVM, owner of Upstate Animal Medical Center, reached down to open a drawer and felt a circular pressure in the middle of her back.
“It felt like a stuck vitamin,” Lucas said.
Until a chiropractor visit the following Tuesday, she continued her regular routine. For Dr. Lucas, that meant a 4-mile run each morning, a 10-hour work day, and often, weightlifting in the evenings. And, a weekend with a lot of activity and friends.
On Saturday morning, her back hurt, and she felt nauseated.
“I wondered if I was having a heart attack,” Lucas said. “I wrote down all my animals’ medications, and went to the vet hospital to take my own EKG. It was normal.”
On Sunday morning, she felt pressure in her chest, so convinced herself she had gastric reflux. She took some Prilosec, and spent the day in Lake George.
On Monday evening, finishing up weight lifting, she felt so much pressure around her neck it was like she was being choked, but told her boyfriend she wanted to finish her set of reps. Which she followed with time on the elliptical and a glass of red wine at home.
On Tuesday, the pressure around her neck and a headache sent her to the chiropractor – who had a gut feeling that her neck and back discomfort was heart related. Lucas described him as the first of her lifesavers. He advised her to go the ER right away. Although he followed her to her car, she still returned for a full day of work, finally going to the emergency room at Glens Falls hospital that night.
“Because of my family history, they did a CT scan,” Lucas said. “I went from dancing around my room in the ER to a CT scan to being told there was no time for a second opinion. The doctor told me, ‘you move, you die.’ I had a 10 percent chance of survival.”
Lucas went by helicopter to Albany Medical Center, where Dr. Lewis Britton performed surgery for a Type A Dissecting Aortic Aneurysm.
“Had I delayed any more, I might not be here,” Lucas said. “This has been a blessing. To have a second opportunity to walk the planet and have your eyes open is a gift.”
Lucas knows that her good physical health before the surgery helped save her life. She had only one other risk factor – genetics.
“My father died 25 years ago of what I survived,” Lucas said. “He was only 63. I have his eyes, his hair, and his heart condition.”
Lucas’ brother has been tested, and isn’t affected by the aneurysm.
“The bottom line is whenever you can stack the deck in your favor when it comes to your health – do it,” Dr. Lucas said. “I’m living proof it’s well worth the effort.”
Lucas continues to work out and eat well. Added to her list is sharing her story often – “especially with women in their 40s,” she said. When Dan Pickett, CEO of nfrastructure and chair with his wife Jennifer of the 2017 Capital Region Heart Ball, asked Dr. Lucas to share her story at the Heart Ball, she quickly agreed.
“It’s very humbling to be asked to participate in this,” Lucas said. “What’s shocking is that I was the picture of health. I had climbed 36 of the 46 High Peaks. You don’t think about something until it touches you. Animals are my thing, but a year and a half ago, I learned that there’s a whole new reality out there.”
“If cardiovascular disease can touch someone like Joy, it can affect anyone,” said Dan Pickett, CEO of nfrastructure. “Jennifer and I are chairing the Heart Ball so we can help reduce the death rate from heart disease. When people hear Joy’s story, they will pay more attention to their own health. It’s also imperative that the American Heart Association continue to fund research so we can understand and cure conditions like Joy’s. We’re grateful that our good friend Joy has agreed to share her story at this important event.”
“It’s easy to think that heart disease only affects older people, or fundamentally unhealthy people,” said Kathy Lanni, chief community officer of SEFCU and chair of the Capital Region Advisory Board of the American Heart Association. “But when you meet a woman as healthy as Joy, you know it doesn’t discriminate. I know that people who otherwise might dismiss back or neck pain as a sign of a potential fatal problem with their heart will pay closer attention to what is happening.”
The Capital Region Heart Ball is set for Saturday, Feb. 25, from 6 – 11 p.m. at the Hall of Springs, 108 Ave. of the Pines, Saratoga Springs. Dan Pickett, CEO of nfrastrucure, and Jennifer Pickett are chairing the Heart Ball. Dr. Joy Lucas of Upstate Animal Medical Center will share her story of heart disease. Liz Bishop, CBS6 anchor, will emcee the Heart Ball. The Donald Led Duke Heart Hero Award will be given to three community leaders. Sponsors include nfrastructure, the Pickett Family Foundation, Michelle and Ron Riggi, The Massry Family, The Nigro Companies, Neil and Jane Golub, SEFCU and CDPHP. Albany Medical Center is the 2017 Life Is Why sponsor. Media sponsors are CBS6, Times Union, B95.5 and All Over Albany. For information, visit CapitalRegionNYHeartBall.heart.org or call 518.626.8754 or email [email protected].