Ask Sam: American Heart Association

American Heart AssociationI’ve was asked to be a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. It will be my second Wall St 5k. I am so honored to have been asked to share my story to help raise awareness and funds to wipe out heart disease.

Why I run, my story.

Day One

After an 8-week hiatus from running due to injury, I could not wait to get going again. Ten minutes into my run, I began to feel like my heart was beating in my throat accompanied by a pulsing sensation in my left arm–similar to muscle fatigue after lifting something too heavy. When I slowed down to a brisk walk, it went away. The sensation came and went. I assumed I was just really out of shape and kept going feeling like I had no energy or wind.

Day Three

Two days later, the same thing happened on my way to the dentist. When I got there, I told my dentist about everything that had been happening to me. He wanted me to see my doctor right away. My dentist, Dr. Michael Goldberg of Manhattan Dental Health, saved my life. It was August; my general practitioner was on vacation, so I went to my local clinic. They ran tests and said I seemed to be fine, wrote it off as an anxiety attack, and gave me a prescription for Clonopin.  I expressed my concerns: my hereditary high cholesterol, the heart attacks of both of my parents, the strange sensations I was having.  But my pulse, pressure, and EKG were fine. “You’re young, you’re fit, and you’re female. You should be fine”. Just to be certain, I made an appointment with the cardiologist the next day. “Make sure you get an echo stress test.”

Day 4

At the cardiologist, he ran the same tests and still all seemed fine. He wanted me to come back the following Monday for a heart monitor (I could have been dead by then). Something just didn’t feel right, so I insisted. I had my sneakers on and I was ready to go. I wanted that echo stress test immediately! I won.  After just 12 minutes on the treadmill I reproduced the symptoms. “Ok, I do see something I don’t like. Tomorrow you will have an angiogram”

Day 5

I went to NYU Long Horn for a angiogram on the 17th of August, my birthday. They ran all the standard tests again and the all came back normal. The interventionist, Dr. Coppola said well, all the results look normal to me and I am not totally convinced by the results of your echo stress test. I think we are going to do this test, send you home with some Plavex by this afternoon and you should be fine. We will give you a local anesthetic and you can watch your heart on the monitor.

“Doctor, today is my birthday, please tell your bartender to juice me up. I want a general anesthetic. I don’t want to know a thing, and I certainly don’t want to watch my heart on the monitor because I’ll faint on your table.” He smiled and told me not to worry. I worried, I prayed, I meditated and counted backwards till I was out.

Hours later when I woke up, Dr. Coppola came in to see me. He said, “You’re an angel. In thirty years as a cardiologist, I have never seen a heart like yours. So strong. Both of your arteries were blocked. I had to put three stents in your heart immediately. It’s actually a miracle that you had this for five days and are still here. The explanation I can give is that all your years of exercise created other passageways for blood to flow, but still, amazing.”

A wave of shock washed over me. I tried to process that I was forever changed.

The good news, you’re young and strong and with this latest generation of stents you will only need Plavex for a year. But of course, you will need to take all of your other medications for your cholesterol religiously. You will also need to follow your diet carefully. You will be released tomorrow afternoon. “Tomorrow afternoon!? Doctor, please, I have to be out of here by 10am the latest.” “Samantha do you understand that you just had heart surgery? “”Yes, I do understand, and I am grateful to you for saving my life. Best birthday present ever. G-d willing maybe I’ll get another 40 years. But since I’m still here and get a second chance, I want the rest of my life to be happy and meaningful. I gave my word that I would be on set by 11am. I’m still here, so the show must go on. I promise I’ll relax; there will be someone to help dress me, do my hair, makeup etc. All I have to do is recline and relax until they need me on set. Then I sit on a sofa on set and go ‘blah, blah, blah’, promise.” “Ok, but you must take it easy.” “I promise. Thank you.”

With the help of a few more doctors and a cardio rehab program I lost some stress-related weight I had been carrying and was able to run the American Heart Association Wall street 5K just 9 months after the stents were put in. Now I don’t sweat the small stuff any more. I run 5k four times a week along with some other exercise. I follow a pescatarian, gluten-free, and casein-free diet and want to share my story to raise awareness and hopefully help others.

This is why I run, because I still can. Please join me on June 18th as I run my heart out.