I am Deborah Daw Heffernan, an experienced cardiac patient and advocate. My website and book offer support and practical tips for fellow heart attack, SCAD, bypass, and heart transplant patients—especially women with heart disease. You may know me as the author of
A memoir of life, love, and surviving my first, near-fatal SCAD and heart attack, ARROW was originally published by Simon & Schuster in 2002. Featured that year on The Oprah Winfrey Show's groundbreaking program about young women and heart disease, ARROW continues to be one of the few books published on women and heart disease. In 2015, I revised and updated ARROW for reissue by my new publisher, Open Road Media. Having gratefully received a heart transplant in 2006, today I am thriving with my lovely new heart—complications and all—the subject of my next book, PERFECT STRANGER.
My adventures in Cardiac Land have brought terror, hilarity, and pain, as well as speechless joy and crushing despair. In other words, mine is a story about life. Illness just happened to become my greatest teacher. You see, in striving to heal all of me—body, mind, and spirit—throughout multiple cardiac disasters, I have learned that illness can actually give life back to us.
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Every month or so I'll be adding more information to this website for living with cardiovascular disease and will announce anything new on Facebook. I only "Friend" people I actually know, so please click FOLLOW. I hope the information that I share with you on this website, on Facebook, and in my book(s) helps you on your own adventure of the heart, in all its meanings.
That this means ONE out of every THREE women you know? Even young women? More women dead than from all cancers combined? And do you know that 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable—largely through lifestyle changes that anyone can incorporate relatively easily, even pleasurably? I cannot live with this knowledge without trying to do something about it through awareness-building, advocacy, and sharing what I have learned.
I am an experienced cardiac patient: a survivor of two massive heart attacks (each caused by a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD), a double bypass, angiograms, stents, ventricular tachycardia, two ICDs and EP testing, cardiomyopathy, supraventricular tachycardia, multiple cardio-conversions, a heart transplant, kidney failure, years of heart biopsies, dreary drug reactions, and a pseudoaneurysm (worse than it sounds). All this despite my relative youth, a lifetime of great health habits, and no family history of cardiovascular disease.
Did you just learn that you have a serious cardiac condition? Have you ever left a tough medical appointment or been discharged from the hospital and thought, “Now what?” I cannot tell you how often I have asked myself that question—despite superb discharge training from my cardiac team at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, terrific cardiac rehab experiences, and the love and support of my husband, family, and friends. Now what? is that lonely moment when you realize that no one is coming to rescue you, that this is your life and you alone must dig yourself out of the avalanche.
Not enough is known about how chronically ill cardiac patients—especially SCAD and heart transplant patients—cope with and manage their health requirements in their real lives. Our clinicians send us into the world with best wishes and the basics of diet, exercise, and medication management. But there is so much more to it that only day-to-day living with chronic illness can teach us. We learn on the job, largely alone. We figure it out as we go.
So, I wrote my book(s)—and now this PRACTICAL website and blog—to address a gap in patient care that I notice every time I separate from my clinicians and ask myself, Now what? Where do I begin? What is my first step? How do I cope? I hope my book(s) and this website of resources, tips, and tools will be useful companions to you as you find your own way to a manageable and rich life of the heart—despite complications.
I chose ".com" because I did not know any better, and now that mistake is too complicated to fix. All my book-related earnings—and more—are donated to cardiac causes. Furthermore, I gain no financial benefit from people, organizations, or products mentioned here. It often took me a long time to stumble upon them, and I hope to save you the trouble. If anyone does benefit commercially from my suggestions, maybe they will be inspired to contribute to cardiac causes!
Your medical team is deeply invested in your life. They can best answer most of your questions. If they are not meeting your needs, switch doctors! Engaged and caring physicians do exist. (See YOUR MEDICAL NOTEBOOK under TIPS & TOOLS for how to keep notes in preparation for speaking with physicians.) I am alarmed by how many people turn to on-line chat communities first, rather than to their clinicians; for example, one patient posted a 2 a.m. description of her obvious heart attack symptoms and asked for advice from her chat group—instead of getting herself to a hospital! Please consult your doctors. The same goes for my suggestions. Just because something has worked for me does not mean it is for you. Our bodies are all different, and science and medicine are constantly changing. Your medical team has the latest information.