In early June 2002, I went to the emergency room at my small community hospital because I was lightheaded and sweating and had pain in the back of my neck. My father had suffered several heart attacks including a fatal one when he was only 50 years old, so even though my symptoms weren’t the traditional ones, I was worried. At the ER, the doctors ran a blood test to check for abnormally high levels of a protein that heart cells release when they die. When the test results came back, confirming my suspicions, my husband couldn’t believe it: I was really having a heart attack. Around 4 o’clock in the morning, I was rushed to the medical center at the University of Michigan for a heart catheterization, a procedure used to look for blocked arteries in the heart. Our kids were asleep at home. No one even knew we were gone. As the ambulance roared past my house, all I could think was, will I ever see my kids again? Finding the Right Cardiologist When I woke up from the anesthesia after the heart catheterization procedure, I was on various medications. And, to keep me stable, the staff had hooked me up to several machines that monitored my vitals: blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, and temperature. In the case of my procedure, the doctors had stuck a tube through a blood vessel in my leg and threaded it up to my heart, so they could release a dye in my coronary arteries. An X-ray to see how the dyed blood flowed through my heart didn’t reveal any blockages in my arteries. But the amount of blood in my heart being pumped out with each beat—what’s called the ejection fraction—was only 35%. Normal ejection fractions hit 55% or higher. Part of my heart, they said, was just dead. The hospital linked me to a cardiologist there whom I saw for the week while I recovered. But we had trouble connecting on a human level. I was worried he wasn’t truly listening to my concerns. In the aftermath of my heart attack, my whole family was really scared; I couldn’t eat or sleep and I lost about 20 pounds. I knew I needed a cardiologist who would really listen. I started asking around. We reached out to family, friends, friends of friends. And, fortunately, one of them told me about Dr. Michael J. Shea, a renowned cardiologist in the same hospital system. I first visited him a few weeks after being discharged. Despite his accomplishments, Dr. Shea was very humble. He clearly wanted to understand my unique situation and took a thoughtful approach to my treatment. He got me started with cardiac rehabilitation, signed me up for a stress management course, and prescribed a few medications. Preventing a Second Heart Attack My cardiologist and I were working together as a team. Our goal was to get my ejection fraction back up to a healthy level. The six-week stress management program Dr. Shea recommended involved deep-breathing exercises and activities to help change how I perceive and handle stress. We also held discussions among our group of about a dozen heart attack survivors. Hearing my classmates’ stories was eye opening. My heart attack happened after a heated board meeting for a volunteer youth sports organization. Some of the people in my stress management course were struggling to feed their families. I really needed to figure out what was important in life. I have a type A personality; I put a lot of heart and soul into my work. But by applying what I learned from the stress management course, I began to let things go, and I could tell I was getting better. The medication also helped—whether it was the anti-depressants or the drugs working to regulate my heart rate and blood pressure. I felt the prayers from friends and family. Everything was helping. For two years after my heart attack, I went back to see my cardiologist every six months. And he always asked me how I felt about my treatment plan. I kept improving, so he kept reducing my medications. After two years had passed, he told me my heart looked fine and my ejection fraction was up to 70%. Then he cut me loose, and I haven’t needed to see him since. Follow Your Gut Having a relationship with your healthcare provider is so important. You don’t want to feel like you’re just the next patient, you want to be the patient. Seek out the doctor that feels right for you. Your doctor should have good bedside manners and inspire confidence in the care you’re receiving. If you need to pull strings or bake cookies to get in with the right provider—do it. Just as my gut told me to go to the ER that first night, my gut led me to my cardiologist. I knew he was the right one for me (just as I knew the first one wasn’t). Dr. Shea prescribed effective medications, but he also listened to me and tailored my treatment plan to meet my needs. It was his guidance that helped me change my mindset. I took a necessary step back from stressful activities. When I volunteer now, it’s as a contributor—not a leader. I stay focused on what’s most important: my kids, my well-being, and our family life. And, thankfully, this mental shift has improved my physical well-being, too. I no longer have to worry about my heart health on a daily basis.