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American Heart Month: Denise's Story

American Heart Month: Denise's Story

Below is a detailed timeline of my story.

A couple of things that I hope you can take away from reading it:
  • Listen to your body and trust your instinct despite what a doctor(s) tells you. You know your body better than anyone else. In doing so, you can save your own life, like I did.
  • Women can present differently when having heart issues. As such, there is a history of misdiagnosis and because of this, we need to advocate for ourselves
  • What happened to me can happen to anyone, which is why I want to share what I experienced to raise awareness and help by raising money. 
Denise Weale, Heart Month

November, 2021 - As a result of learning that my cholesterol levels were rising at a routine check up, my doctor gave me a referral to a cardiologist so that I could make an appointment to get a CT coronary angiogram to reveal if I had any plaque build up. This test would identify any blockages in my arteries which could lead to a heart attack. I took the earliest available appointment, which wasn’t until April 18th. 

 Early March -  After a restless and painful night of severe chest pains and a lump in my throat,  I got out of bed the next morning and immediately emailed my doctor explaining my symptoms and asking for him to please call me back ASAP. He emailed me back saying that his staff would get back to me on that same day, however the day went by and I never heard from anyone. So, I called the office and was told that there were no available appointments. As such, I took it upon myself and went to a different doctor who saw me right away – he did an examination that didn’t show anything abnormal. He proceeded to prescribe me Xanax, under the impression that this episode was a result of stress and anxiety, and told me to take it whenever I had that feeling. 

This diagnosis really caught me off guard as I deal with anxiety and stress regularly, but never felt anything quite like what I was experiencing. All the while, my regular daily routine began to trigger these symptoms which further spiraled my anxiety and stress. All of the sudden I had a lump in my throat and tightness in my chest throughout the day, and everytime I went for a walk, for example. Since the doctor told me it was nothing but stress and anxiety, I was led to believe that I was out of shape, even though I knew I wasn’t.

Late March - During the follow up tele-health virtual check in with the doctor, he reported that the bloodwork came back normal except for elevated cortisol levels (a stress hormone) . I let him know that I started to feel really fatigued and exhausted on a regular basis and that I would experience a heaviness in my chest and a lump in my throat when I went on walks. He advised me to keep the appointment with the cardiologist and to take Xanax when I would feel the symptoms. 

Early April - I finally had an appointment with the cardiologist. I explained what I had been feeling and going through the past couple of months, told him about the heaviness in my chest, lump in my throat, and fatigue. As a result, he performed an echocardiogram the next day which showed that my heart was healthy, and followed up by ordering a stress test. 

Late April - I had the stress test which they stopped conducting after 7.5 minutes because of the onset of the heaviness in my chest and the lump in my throat. Other than this, they didn’t detect anything “abnormal," and I was dismissed. 

Since the echocardiogram and stress test didn’t show anything alarming, my doctor finally approved me to schedule a CT coronary angiogram. The next available time to get one however wasn’t until June. At this point, I couldn’t wait until June and pushed and pushed until they gave me an earlier appointment. This made me feel even more so that there was no urgency to my matter.

Late May - The day before I was expecting to leave for vacation, I had the CT coronary angiogram. A couple of hours later, my cardiologist called me to tell me that the results showed a 90% blockage in my left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to the larger, front part of the heart (earning the nickname, the widowmaker). He followed by telling me that I needed to be admitted to the hospital that day for an angioplasty surgery, the following day.

After months of being told that my symptoms were the result of stress and anxiety, this call took me by complete surprise, shock, frustration, and many other emotions. All of the sudden, my situation had become dire and I now needed to be admitted to the hospital instead of going on my vacation?

As a result, I found myself in a state of denial, so much so that the doctor proceeded to call my husband, Ross and daughter, Olivia to tell them what the results showed, and what we needed to do.

I had thousands of thoughts running through my head and was beyond overwhelmed. As my family tried to keep me and themselves calm, Olivia came to the bakery to pick me up.

Later that night, the three of us headed to the ER at Northern Westchester Hospital where I was admitted. The following day, I had an angioplasty surgery where 2 stents were placed, because they determined that my left descending artery was not 90% blocked, but 100% blocked AND that the episode that led to the immediate doctor visit in March was indeed a heart attack. 

As such, I was walking around for over 3 months with a majority artery fully blocked. This ultimately could have resulted in my death because it was untreated…

After the procedure, I was in the ICU for 3 days. Pictured below you can see me, Ross and Olivia after I ate my first meal, post operation:

Denise Heart Surgery

Post-discharge, and heading home!:

While recovering physically at home for about a month, adjusting to all of my new medications and slowly easing back into movement, the weather allowed for me to spend a lot of time outside, reflecting. Apart from the physical recovery, I was also dealing heavily with my mental health and recovery as I began to process what had just happened to me, in that I was given a second chance at life. Having more regular appointments with my therapist was, and still is, a very helpful part of this continuous journey.  

I also met with a dietician who reinforced that I had a good diet, and that this was not a result of my poor eating choices, but rather from my genes. I did however proceed to go on a stricter diet to further reduce my sodium intake. 

 During this time, there is no way I could've kept the bakery running normally if it wasn't for our head baker, Ty, and the rest of our amazing staff.

My Recovery Journey

A marathon, not a sprint.

June -  I started cardiac rehab 3x a week. While performing and easing into different exercises using machines, like this one shown below, I was hooked up to a heart monitor. As I progressed, my exercises got more intensive.

Denise Weale, owner of Dam Good™ English Muffins Heart Month Fundraiser

Late July - To continue to get back on track physically, I needed to adjust my lifestyle to allow for increased physical activity. So, I joined the gym that conveniently opened in the same complex as our wholesale bakery (Wild Blast Fitness). This allows me to get a workout in before starting my day at the bakery! Since becoming a member, I make it a priority to get to the gym at least 3 times a week. 

I feel very grateful that I am now able to move my body in ways that I felt that I was never going to be able to again, just a couple of months ago -- Each day I feel myself getting stronger, and can notice my endurance increasing. I am running, speed walking, lifting weights, biking, etc. and Dam proud of the progress I've made thus far. Although some days are harder than others, staying active is essential in maintaining and improving my cardiac and overall health.

Pictured below, is me and my daughter (and operations manager) Olivia, working out together. She too makes exercise a priority to benefit her overall health, in addition to her cardiovascular health (she has third degree heart block) -- We motivate and hold each other accountable at the gym (and at the bakery!). 

Denise and Olivia Weale Heart Month Fundraiser for Dam Good English Muffins

It is hard to express what it feels like to have a second chance at life, but because I was blessed with this opportunity, in order to decrease the chances of this happening to others, I want to make my story known. If there is one thing I can ask of you in addition to donating below, it is to please forward this email along to friends and family. 

From the outside, I don’t appear as someone who would suffer from Coronary Artery Disease – I eat healthy, exercise often, am not a drinker, smoker, nor am I overweight. This can happen to anyone.

If you've gotten this far in my email, thank you. I encourage you to please stay tuned for Part 2, next week, where my daughter and operations manager, Olivia, will share her story about her heart condition. 


With gratitude,
Denise, owner
Please consider donating:
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For AMERICAN HEART MONTH (February), 10% of all sales from our "Original White" variety will be donated to the American Heart Association

As a mother daughter duo in business who both suffer from severe heart conditions, we were inclined to activate this fundraiser to Do Dam Good™ not only by donating money, but also by raising awareness about women's cardiovascular issues through sharing our stories. - Denise (owner) and Olivia Weale (operations manager)

Support Cardiovascular Health

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