March 4, 2011, Vol. 9 Issue 3
I was working on this issue last week when I came down with the crud, and I do mean down. Interestingly, I was writing about listening to your body — mine was shouting, “Lay down, lay down. It’s rest and chicken soup for you, or you’re going to continue hacking, hacking, hacking.” I got the message. I had to lie down whether I wanted to or not. So although heart month for 2011 is past, I’m just now recovered enough to finish writing about it. I know it’s never too late to spread the word about heart disease and especially the importance of listening to your body. Heart disease has its own timetable, as our speaker Ginger Zimmerman, heart disease and transplant survivor, knows all too well.
Listen to Your Body and Insist!
Meet Ginger Zimmerman. It’s hard to believe that this vibrant, talkative, enthusiastic woman was very close to dying of heart failure twelve years ago. But she was in fact, and she is a heart transplant survivor with a story that reads like a tragic movie script with a happy ending.
In 1994, when she was in her late twenties and living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, she was enjoying life as a successful artist, wife and mother of three young sons. She was physically active, and seemingly healthy when her energy started draining dramatically.
“Initially I had a virus in 1993,” she said, “but I didn’t begin to experience symptoms until after the birth of my youngest son a year later. During aerobics I would begin to have chest pain and have to stop, and then the pain would go away.”
Naturally, she thought chest pains might have something to do with her heart, but her doctors dismissed her concerns, telling her it was a thyroid condition — that she was too young for heart disease. The symptoms, however, continued. She’d find herself gasping for air in the middle of the night and her energy kept declining. Dealing with a busy family is one thing; dealing with one while your energy is continuously sapped is quite another. Her search for an answer lasted almost four frustrating, frightening years.
When her heart condition was finally diagnosed, the doctor told her that her heart was functioning at barely 15% of its normal capacity, and he had no idea how she was even sitting in front of him. The shocking news — Ginger needed a heart transplant.
Now she was in for another long wait. It was several months before she received the news that a new heart was available. When it finally arrived, her husband, an offshore oil surveyor working in the Gulf of Mexico, had just gone back out to his site. Ginger sent for him, and again she waited. A new heart, however, does not wait, and as Ginger was being prepared to be wheeled into the O.R., he had not yet arrived at the hospital.
“They were strapping me on the table,” recalls Ginger, “and I was looking up at the bright lights, thinking, this might be the last thing I ever see.” At the very last moment, her husband burst through the doors, with his own death-defying tale. The helicopter transporting him from the oil rig had been forced to make a harrowing emergency landing on water.
“He kept saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m alive, I can’t believe I’m alive,’” says Ginger.
The heart transplant surgery was successful, and they finally felt they were on the road to reclaiming their lives. Grateful for their second chance, the couple faced the next hurdle — Ginger’s long recovery process in the hospital.
But then another tragedy intervened. Nine days into her recovery, Ginger awoke with a strange but strong feeling that she should call home right away. Now, imagine, she is in the hospital recovering from a heart transplant and doesn’t even have a cell phone or credit card with her. She had to get the hospital operator to place a collect call. When her husband answered she knew immediately that something was very wrong. He objected, insisting he was okay, but she insisted he hang up and speed dial their niece, a registered nurse who was nearby. Her niece rushed over, examined him and phoned Ginger to tell her she had to get him to the hospital right away.
“She put me on the phone with him. I was able to tell him I loved him. And that was the last time I was able to speak with him,” Ginger remembers.
As it turned out, he had suffered an injury in the helicopter accident, an impact tear to a small artery in his brain, and it was inoperable. Even if it had been detected when he first arrived at the hospital, there was nothing that could have been done. With the help of both hospitals, and at great risk — one she was willing to take — Ginger got to his bedside in a hospital in another city to say goodbye just before he passed.
Now she faced her recovery alone, and as a single mom.
It was Ginger’s courage, determination and love for her children that gave her the strength to heal and recover. When she discovered the Go Red for Women program, created to fight heart disease in women, she also discovered a new purpose; she saw in it an opportunity to motivate others. Now she speaks to women across the country, encouraging them to listen to their bodies, and to lead heart healthy and physically active lives. Knowing from her own experience that any woman is at risk, Ginger is determined to help reverse the statistics and beat the No. 1 killer of women – one fact, one talk, one woman at a time.
Her advice for others? “Educate yourself, listen to your body, don’t ignore symptoms, and don’t put off going to your doctor. Learn to communicate with your physician effectively. It’s a two-way street. If you still feel a doctor isn’t listening to you, find another. Take charge of your health. Most of all, don’t take it for granted.”
Coming from Ginger, with her moving story, personal commitment and presence, women hear her message loud and clear. To learn more about Ginger and schedule her to highlight your heart health event, visit our website, where you can view a video of Ginger telling her story, or give me a call at 503-699-5031.
At the Beach
I’m at the beach this week, working remotely and enjoying a change of scenery. My husband and I are house-sitting for friends on a lovely lake about 2 miles from the Oregon Coast, where winter storms can be spectacular. Already today we’ve had hail a couple of times, sunshine, sideways rain, and it’s almost 50 degrees. Best yet, there are bunches of daffodils blooming! Oh, and did I mention the hot tub? A soak sounds like a good reward for getting out this newsletter! Think Spring!
Until next time, listen to your body, and take care of yourself for your well being and those you love.
PLEASE NOTE: The information shared in this e-news is designed to help you make informed decisions about speakers and the programs they offer. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment prescribed by a doctor. If you suspect you have a medical problem, seek competent medical help.