Staff Writer
Donaldsonville Chief

Houma— February is American Heart Month, and Cardiovascular Institute of the South (CIS) is creating awareness about the fight against heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Cardiovascular disease greatly affects our area, but there are many misconceptions about the disease.  A common myth about heart disease is that it only affects the elderly, but statistics show that cardiovascular disease affects 40% of both men and women ages 40-59.  Another common misconception about cardiovascular disease is that it is a man’s disease, but nearly twice as many women in the United States die from cardiovascular disease than from other cancers combined. 

For these reasons, it is important to determine your risk factors and take preventative measures to lessen your risk.  Just ask Kim Waldrup, who at the age of 55 experienced a heart attack in her sleep.

Waldrup, of Bourg, Louisiana, did not think she was at risk for heart disease, being a woman in her mid-50s who lived a healthy lifestyle.  She was concerned, though, about her husband’s risk, so she took him to a free cardiovascular screening at CIS in July of 2011.  At the event, she was encouraged to receive the screening as well, and the test showed that her cholesterol was very high at 290.  However, she still did not think she was at high risk due to her age and gender.

The following week, she began having a pain in her left shoulder blade and neck.  At times, her left arm would ache and go numb, and she was also experiencing pain in her left jaw.  These symptoms went on for two weeks, with the pain increasing and lasting for longer intervals, but she attributed them to an old neck and shoulder injury.  Finally, she visited her primary care physician, who prescribed muscle relaxers, pain pills, and anti-inflammatory medications for a pinched back nerve.  When she woke up three days later, her neck pain was gone, but by the evening, she had difficulty breathing and shortness of breath.  Upon visiting the emergency room, she was told that she had had a heart attack and was undergoing heart failure.

An angiogram, which uses x-ray imaging and dye to see the arteries of the heart, determined that she had four significantly blocked arteries, two of which were 99% blocked.  Waldrup received stents in these arteries to restore flood flow.

“I was shocked to learn that I had blockages to that extent at 55 years old,” explained Waldrup.  “I had strived to live a healthy lifestyle.”  What Waldrup didn’t take seriously was that she had two major risk factors: family history and high cholesterol.  Her father experienced two heart attacks, and though her cholesterol was high, she was not taking any medication.

Months later, with the help of her cardiologist, Waldrup was able to reach healthy cholesterol levels.  She has now resumed an active lifestyle and is thankful to be on a journey to better heart health.  “I am grateful to CIS for helping to give me a second chance at the rest of my life,” she said.  “I am also very thankful to Dr. Craig Walker for establishing CIS in Louisiana because, with the prevalence of heart disease in our area, we need access to superior heart care.  We have that in CIS.”

She now advocates for others to know their risk and prevent heart disease before it strikes.  “The first way to protect yourself is to learn your risk factors and talk about them with your cardiologist,” explained Waldrup.  “We cannot make the mistake of thinking that heart disease just happens to someone else.”

Waldrup especially encourages women to know their risk.  “Many women take for granted that they cannot be affected simply because of their age or gender,” she explained.  “Women also tend to overlook their symptoms, as I did,” she added.

Common, well-known signs of heart attack include chest pain or shortness of breath.  But other symptoms may be present, particularly in women, such as tightness or squeezing of the chest, pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck or jaw, nausea, lightheadedness or cold sweats.

Do you know your risk?  Risk factors for heart disease include family history of heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as smoking, being overweight or being inactive.  “The key to effectively prevent heart disease is education,” said Dr. Craig Walker, founder of CIS.  “Anyone with risk factors should consider the possibility of having heart disease regardless of the presence of symptoms.”

The best way to fight heart disease is to prevent it.   If you think you may be at risk, call CIS for a visit with one of our cardiologists.

Looking back, Waldrup realized she should have acted sooner.  “We can only take care of those that we love if we are around to do it,” said Waldrup.  “You must take an active role in saving your own life.  We only get one heart, and sometimes we only get one chance to save it.  Don’t blow that chance,” she urged.  “Be a survivor.”