Caravan Sonnet: Chronicittles- Leah's Heart Story

3/21/13

Chronicittles- Leah's Heart Story


{Chronicittles Disclaimer: Those that are sharing their personal chronicittles stories are sharing just that- their stories. They are people that are struggling {or have struggled} with the ins and outs of a chronic illness and have found ways of surviving and thriving. Their stories are meant to encourage, inspire, and challenge those that are struggling but are in no way meant to be a physician's advice. Please be aware that this is a space for learning and encouraging and not a space that will allow critical comments of any persons story. A reader should consult with his/her physician regarding any information gleaned from these stories. Thank you so much for reading!}
It's with great pleasure that I share with you Leah's story! For the past three years I have had the incredible opportunity to get to know this beautiful woman who is an amazing artist, an incredible philosopher, and is quick to bring a smile to all of those around her! I am excited to have her share her story with y'all!
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When I was thinking of the best way to begin my story, I figured I should introduce myself first. It always helps me to put a face to the words I’m reading.

            My name is Leah and I’m 19 years old, soon to be 20 in June! Woot! I attend Georgia College in Milledgeville. The picture above was taken approximately in the middle of my health struggle. Ever since I was in middle school, I always remember being the slow, un-athletic kid. I could not comprehend how people could run the mile in less than 12 minutes. I would be a quarter of the way finished and feel like I was going to pass out. But despite my seemingly un-fit self, I tried out for soccer in 6th grade, prepared to conquer the world with my crazy soccer skills. To be honest, I really was not that bad in terms of ability. In fact, I loved playing soccer. But I just could not keep up with everybody. I just got winded so fast. Twenty girls tried out over the course of two days. I remember talking to my friend, who had spoken with the coach after the first day of try-outs. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Coach told me that they only have to cut one player. She said they have to cut the weakest link, which won’t be you or me.” To this day, I recall that conversation word for word, probably because I was the one player. 19 out of 20 girls made it, including one with a broken wrist that could not even play in the games. And I was the “weakest link” because I could not run as long or as hard as everyone else. It was that point in my life that I decided I was either overweight, out of shape, or both. In my mind, I would always be the weak one; the one at the back of the race.

            In eighth grade, along with getting winded easily, I had my first heart palpitation. If you don’t know what a heart palpitation is, I will do my best to explain it. There can be many causes but the sensation itself feels like a suction, or a skipping feeling in your chest. In my case, it felt like my heart would miss a beat and then try to catch up. At first, it was very scary because I had no idea what was going on. But I talked to my doctor and she told me they “just happen” sometimes. (Thank you, medical professional, for that mind blowing explanation.) I didn’t care too much at the time because they happened very infrequently.

My sophomore year, which was an extremely pivotal point in my life brought with it my first heart break. Which, looking back, it seems so dumb to be hurt by such an obviously fruitless and detrimental relationship. But at the time, I was absolutely devastated. The guy said some not-very-nice-things to me that left me feeling like I would never be good enough for anybody. I had lost touch with many of my friends because of the relationship and I felt wholly alone and abandoned by those who I looked up to. I consequently got quite depressed and found myself wallowing in the state of it. After two months of ignoring me, the guy texted me to tell me that it was my fault he became suicidal. He told me I had a “terrible habit of making people feel like they needed to go jump of a cliff.” (Well, ouch, dude.) That comment made me start thinking. And thinking about certain things when you are depressed is never a good practice. Why am I even alive if I make people feel that way? Just for the record, I never actually considered suicide an option. What did cross my mind however, was that I would rather not be alive in general. I wasn’t going to actively stop myself from existing, but at the time, I wasn’t opposed to something happening to me. All during this period of time, my heart palpitation were increasing in frequency and intensity, as if to remind me that my heart was going to beat whether I wanted it to or not.

Let’s fast-forward some more, fantastic things happened between my sophomore and senior year. I surrendered my depression to God and recovered substantially from the emotional ditch I had dug myself into and was introuced to my life passion in the process: art. I don’t think that he knows it, but my art teacher (who I’ve known from kindergarten to the present) showed me the best form of therapy imaginable. I discovered that painting and creating works of art allowed me to heal and process the hurt I had kept crammed deep inside of me. It still does that for me, to this day. Also that year, I began dating my super-fantastic, amazing boyfriend (Who I just shared in a 2 year anniversary with this past February! Woohoo!) Things were getting better, but my health was plummeting downhill. My heart palpitations had increased to several a week, and I could no longer walk to my car after school without having my heart race.

My senior year, I became a slave to my poor health. I thought, I’m probably experiencing this because I’m out of shape and overweight. And I could fix that. I happen to have an iron will and if I set my mind to something, consider it done. I went from 145 to 125 pounds in two months by cutting my caloric intake to 1,000 calories per day. Sometimes I would cheat and reduce that to 800-900 per day.  But even after I lost the weight, I was still experiencing intense heart palpitations at least once a day and had developed chronic pain in my chest and left arm. The pain was so intense some nights that it would bring me to the point of tears. My mom and I began seeking a cardiologist that school year and found one soon enough.

            They ran every test under the sun on me and my dysfunctional little heart. I mean Echocardiograms, Stress tests, Holter Monitors, blood tests, etc. And to my surprise and discouragement, absolutely everything came back completely normal. I remember sitting in my cardiologists office when he told me that I would just have to get used to it. “It’s probably stress,” he said, “you’re heart just happens to beat a lot faster than everyone else’s.” And he was right. My average resting heart rate was 102 BPM. I was frustrated, but accepted that I was just less physically able than everyone else and I would remain, “the weakest link.” That is, until I walked up the stairs after school one day and felt my heart rate explode to 200-300 BPM. I remember standing in the hall, barely able to breath, thinking I was going to die. After a minute, it finally slowed back to normal and I sat on the ground, exhausted. I felt like I had just ran a 10 mile marathon. It was back to the Cardiologist for me.

            My doctor prescribed me 25 mg of Toprol Xl, a beta-blocker, meant to keep my heart rate from accelerating uncontrollably. He guessed that I had some sort of Atrial Fibrillation, an irregular heart beat caused by faulty electrical impulses in the heart. I was just glad to have a name for it. The medicine helped with my heart rate, but I still had palpitations and excruciating chest and arm pain.
July 2nd, 6:00pm, 2012. My boyfriend drove me to the emergency room after the left side of my body went numb while I was walking on a treadmill. I remember sitting in the room shaking because I thought I had experienced some sort of clot related to my heart condition. They admitted me to the hospital overnight and started me on a powerful blood thinner, Heparin.
There is a picture of me in my beautiful hospital garb. I had an MRI and a CAT scan that night. In the morning, a cleaning woman came in and asked me something I didn’t expect. She said, “You are too young to be here. Did you pray to the Lord about your heart before you went to the doctor?” And I thought, well, no. Why didn’t I? Why did I feel that the doctors had a better answer?

Before I was released, two doctors came in to give me their medical opinions. One, a neurologist, told me I suffered a severe migraine, gave me some baby aspirin, and told me to go home. The other, a cardiologist, said he had to condemn me to a life of blood thinners because I was prone to clots. If I took the blood thinners, I would have to go to the emergency room if I ever fell and hit my head. I had a major decision to make: If I listened to the Neurologist and he was wrong, I could go home and have a clot go straight to my brain. But if I listened to the Cardiologist and he was wrong, I would be stuck on a controversial and dangerous blood thinner for the rest of my life. The painting I did below (called “That is the Question,”) depicts my struggle in that choice. And do you know which option I chose? Neither.
Instead, I took the advice of the most wise person in the hospital: the cleaning woman. I prayed and I trusted God. I was put in touch with a friend of mine who recommended the book, “Eat Right for Your Type,” after she had successfully overcome her heart issues by changing her eating habits. My iron will and I decided to give in a shot, considering I had little left to lose. I dropped my beta-blocker cold turkey (I do NOT recommend that) and I completely cut out wheat, corn and everything artificial completely from my diet the same day that I met with my friend. Over the next month, my chest and arm pain ceased altogether. My heart rate went from an average of 102 BPM to 70 BPM at rest. I nearly cried out of joy that day I was able to walk to my car without losing my breath. My heart palpitations have not stopped completely, but they are now infrequent and very mild, typically only recurring if I eat something that contains traces of wheat.

            I look back today, on the past 8 years of my life, and cannot believe how far God has brought me. He was there when I didn’t make the soccer team and I felt worthless. He was there when I cried in the shower out of desperation during my sophomore year depression. He was there during every doctor’s appointment, every medical test, and every minute I was in the hospital, just waiting for me to finally look in his direction.
My life now is by no means perfect. I still struggle with depression on occasion. I still have days where my heart just won’t cooperate with me. But I don’t feel weak any more. I no longer feel like I am going to be the last one to finish the race. I don’t know where God is leading my path now, but what I do know is that I’m going to follow wherever He takes me. In the words of my current favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, i f I can.”

 
Encouragement, Thoughts, Advice
1.  Before making any dietary changes involving wheat, get tested for gluten intolerance or celiac disease while you still have wheat in your diet. You cannot get tested once it’s out of your system unless you go back to eating it, which, in my case, is now impossible. So test first, cut out later :)
2.  Read up on “Eat Right for Your Type.” I am not claiming it as a Miracle-cure-all. But it has some logical solutions to common health problems.
3.  I know doctors can be annoying. And I know you may be sick of hearing, “You’re probably just stressed.” If results keep coming back negative, check out the possibility of food allergies or intolerances. What we eat can significantly alter our health more than we realize.
4.  Pray before your doctors appointments. Doctors are still human. They may know more than you do, but I recommend talking to God before you talk to them.
5.  Be thankful for your health. It may not be perfect, but there is always someone who has it worse than you do. Always remember that.

Please email me if you want to ask me anything! If you want to see more of my artwork, I have a facebook page called “Collier Art
" ~please stop on over and check it!  

4 comments:

  1. This is an extremely touching story. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Xoxo

    Lauren

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  2. So encouraging!!! Glad you are feeling better, Leah!

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  3. Hello from Monday Mingling! This such a great story :) I am your newest fan on bloglovin and it would be lovely if stop by over my blog and see if you like it :)

    Have a fantastic week.

    Hugs x
    Scudds

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  4. So blessed by this shared story. I don't understand why doctors don't ever ask patients what they are eating -- I believe food is our most frequently taken medicine. It's more powerful than we think.

    Which reminds me. I need to listen to my own self on that!

    Thank you so much for sharing Leah and Rebecca!

    xoxo,
    Gayle | Grace for Gayle

    ReplyDelete