Eight little words saved Tia Emard’s life the day after Christmas last year.
This July, those same words helped her husband, Jeremy.
“I hope I’m not having a heart attack,” Tia texted to Jeremy. Those eight words would change her life forever.
After hosting thirty people at their home over Christmas, Tia was feeling tired and rundown. Her back ached. She took some Advil, but her symptoms persisted. After texting her husband, she still didn’t feel well. She drove herself to an urgent care clinic.
“It’s a good thing I listened to myself,” Tia said. That’s because she was having a heart attack. Within five minutes of arriving at the clinic, an EKG was performed and that’s when Tia was told her heart wasn’t working properly.
She was whisked away in an ambulance to Lawrence and Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. “I was so frightened during that trip,” Tia recounted. “All I could think about was my son, Aidan.” He was four-years-old at the time.
After testing, doctors did find a blockage. During a 45-minute procedure, they put a stent in which opened the blockage and let the blood flow back into Tia’s heart.
“I remember pacing back and forth outside of her room during the procedure,” said Jeremy. He and Tia have been married for fourteen years. “It still hadn’t sunk in what had happened to her, that she had a heart attack. I was absolutely scared.”
And he was scared for Aidan, who is going into kindergarten this fall. “Mommy’s got a boo-boo and the doctor is taking care of her,” Jeremy told him.
Because Tia acted so quickly, there was no long-term damage to her heart. “Many people go through denial with heart attack and believe it can’t be happening to them,” said Dr. Thomas Lanna, Tia’s cardiologist. He practices in Westerly, as part of the Rhode Island Cardiovascular Group.
“Tia did everything right,” said Dr. Lanna. “She sought attention quickly and that saved her heart from damage and saved her life.”
Warning signs of heart disease can be different in women than they are in men. But symptoms of heart disease and heart attack can be pain or discomfort in the arms, neck, jaw, stomach or back. Other signs can be shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness and breaking out in a cold sweat.
Tia’s text about heart attack was racing through Jeremy’s mind this July, when the family was vacationing at Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.
On their first night there, Jeremy, who works as a machinist in Connecticut, noticed what felt like a bruise above his belly button. He had severe stomach pains. “But I have a very high tolerance for pain,” he said, and thought he’d feel better in the morning.
Jeremy felt worse when he woke up. “We went to breakfast, but I had such bad pain, I decided to get it checked out at an urgent care clinic.” Later that day, Jeremy underwent surgery for an internal hernia.
“If I didn’t have my wife’s voice in my head telling me to listen to my body and get it checked out, I would have just dealt with the pain,” Jeremy said.
Embracing a healthier lifestyle now has become a top priority for the Emard family. And their family and friends are supporting them
“Tia and I have always been like two peas in a pod,” said Joy Allen, one of Tia’s closest friends since childhood, who lives three minutes away from her. They played softball in high school, Joy in the outfield and Tia as catcher. The two try to walk several miles in their Westerly neighborhood every Saturday morning.
“There’s definitely been a change in her since this happened,” said Joy. “She is trying to stay in the moment and stress less.” Joy said they are doing a better job of getting together more and just relaxing.
“This was a wake-up call to put herself first and I am so happy she is here. It wouldn’t be the same without her,” said Joy.
Gerah Ventresca has known Tia for thirty years. She was supposed to go to a basketball game with Tia the night she had her heart attack. “I never expected the reason she wasn’t answering was because she was in the hospital,” Gerah said.
She went to visit Tia in the hospital the next night. And she continues to support her friend. This Saturday, September 22nd Gerah is taking part in the American Heart Association’s Greater Westerly Heart Walk. “I am doing it to support Tia and her journey,” Gerah said.
Tia is taking her cardiac maintenance very seriously. In addition to regular check-ups with Dr. Lanna, she exercises, watches what she eats and has tried to lower her stress level.
“She’s dealt with the denial and anxiety that are natural when someone has a heart attack,” Dr. Lanna explained. “Tia is teaching others about the risk factors for heart attack, she’s become a great cheerleader for a healthy lifestyle.”
Tia works as an administrative assistant for technology in Westerly Public Schools.
“She wanted to get back to work,” said Patty Sisson, who has worked with Tia for the past four years. Patty was surprised when she heard the news. “You think of heart attack impacting someone who is sedentary, not someone like Tia who is such an active person with her little boy Aidan, her husband Jeremy and all her activities.” Sisson said Tia is committed to her cardiac health. “She is always walking on her lunch break, no matter what the weather.”
Sisson will also be taking part in the American Heart Association’s Greater Westerly Heart Walk on September 22nd. “I’m going to do what I can to support her,” Sisson said. “We hit it off right away and it feels like I’ve known her forever – she’s a wonderful person.”
Wendy Overend went to high school with Tia. Their young sons, Benjamin and Aidan play together and their families vacation together. She said that Tia gives everything 100 percent, all the time, including her battle with heart disease. “I hate that Tia had to go through a heart attack, but if there is a silver lining, it’s this. Not only is she educating us all about heart disease, but she has a different perspective on living now, and it’s a life that is peaceful and calm.”
Tia said she’s grateful to the American Heart Association to let more people know about heart disease. “If I can help one person get though what I went through then I know I have done my part.”
To learn how to take part in the Southern New England Greater Westerly Heart Walk on Saturday, September 22nd go to www.greaterwesterlyheartwalk.org.