GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV) - Julie Squillante was volunteering at the American Heart Association’s office when she said she’d had a slight cardiac history of her own. Then she mentioned that her mother, Joyce Deike, had died at 42 of a sudden cardiac arrest.
And then she mentioned that her teenage daughter, Joyce, has recently discovered a hole in the chambers of her heart while being treated for another condition.
And that her maternal grandmother died of a stroke years ago.
“Wow. I guess my family does have quite a cardiac history,” said Julie. “I was very glad to turn 12-years-old myself, because the fact that my mother lost her parent at age 11 was on my mind,” said Julie.
But that relief was short-lived with her mother’s sudden death when Julie was just 14 years old. Her mother had gotten up to get a cup of coffee, said she wasn’t feeling well and that she wanted to lie down. Moments later she died. A family friend, who was a fire chief, was the first responder on the scene to do CPR.
After her mother’s passing, Julie now had the added responsibility of raising her younger brother. She mourns the fact that her mother was not there for the important moments in her life including graduation, her wedding and the birth of her daughter.
“We knew that she’d had high blood pressure. Mom had an angiogram a week before she passed which did not raise any red flags and gave the family a sense of security,” said Julie. A Coronary Angiogram is a special X-ray test performed to find out if your coronary arteries are clogged, where and by how much. During an angiogram, a catheter is inserted into an artery and up to the heart. Once in place, a contrast dye that is visible by X-rays is injected into the bloodstream. The X-ray machine takes a series of images (angiograms) which will show any areas of narrowing.
A sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, and the heart suddenly stops beating, often without warning. While the terms sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack are often used as if they are synonymous, they aren’t. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest, but most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest.
So in hindsight, the angiogram was done to look for a narrow or blocked artery, but the sudden cardiac arrest was likely caused by an electrical issue.
Now in her 40s, Julie has a cardiologist who monitors her heart health, which includes wearing a Holter Heart Rate Monitor from time to time. Also called an ambulatory EKG, a Holter Monitor is a battery-operated, portable device that measures and tape-records the heart’s electrical activity continuously, usually for a period of 24 to 48 hours so that any irregular heart activity can be correlated with a person’s activity.
“I undergo a cardiac stress test on a regular basis because I also have high blood pressure and we know that the blood flow in my heart slows down occasionally when it shouldn’t. I will probably have to have a pacemaker in my 60s or 70s,” explains Julie. “I was just really happy to make it to 46 years old and outlive my grandmother.”
“This cardiac history makes you a different kind of mother,” said Julie. “You appreciate everything about your child and try to share family history and knowledge early. I never got to share those stories with my mother.”
Julie’s daughter, Joyce, is creating her own cardiac history but in a different way. She’s been diagnosed with a congenital issue.
“She’s only 16 years old and she passed out in school,” shares Julie. “In the Emergency Room they discovered, as a secondary issue, that something was not right with her heart. Joyce has a hole between two of the chambers of her heart which will need minimally-invasive surgery this spring.”
“Technology and research have changed so much since Julie’s mother’s passing in 1981. Computers were just coming into widespread use at that time and they have really advanced research and medical knowledge,” said Cindy Bouma, communications director at the American Heart Association in West Michigan. “Imagine the advances that her daughter will see during her lifetime and how these might help both of them live longer, stronger lives.”
Julie recalls that often a woman’s concerns prior to the early 1980s were simply dismissed as “women’s issues”. She volunteers weekly for the local American Heart Association’s office and was happy to learn that the funds generated by Go Red For Women are restricted to research and education for women. She’d also like more research studies that specifically involve women.
“If only my mother and grandmother had been able to benefit from today’s technology.” she said. “I wonder how much longer we might have had together.”
Julie will be one of the many survivors at the Go Red For Women Luncheon in Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids Go Red For Women Luncheon
Friday, February 22, 2012 10:0 am – 1:00 pm at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining