Cindy Lepard takes ultrasounds of people’s hearts, in her job as a cardiac sonographer.
She knows that some of those people have the test because they are feeling out of breath, are tired all the time and sometimes are even having chest pains. So, in December 2005, when Lepard started feeling those symptoms, she realized, “Maybe I should get checked out too.”
That led, in rapid succession, to an EKG, an echocardiogram, a cardiac catheterization and triple bypass surgery. Lepard was just 40 years old at the time.
“The doctor told me I needed surgery and I needed it soon,” said Lepard, who works at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital. “I was close to having a major heart attack. It was the kind of blockage that causes sudden death.”
Lepard will be the honored “survivor” at the American Heart Association’s Lancaster Go Red for Women event, being held virtually June 25. Go Red for Women is a campaign to raise awareness among women about the threat of heart disease.
Lepard’s story serves as a lesson for women – and everyone – to take care of yourself, be tuned into your body and not ignore troubling symptoms.
Growing up with a family history of cardiac problems that goes back at least two generations, Lepard had other heart attack risk factors: she had been a smoker (but quit 10 months before her heart surgery), had struggled with her weight and had high cholesterol, for which she was taking medication. But she did not initially link her symptoms to heart problems, instead chalking it up to a busy life. Having recently finished schooling to be a cardiac sonographer, she was working at her first sonographer job, exercising to try to lose weight and was a single parent at the time, raising a 12-year-old son.
“I was exhausted all the time,” she recalled. “It was nothing for me to take a two-hour nap.”
She had her open-heart surgery Dec. 22 and told her surgeon she wanted to be home on Christmas Day, so she could be with her son. She made her goal. She went to a cardiac rehabilitation program and returned to work about a month later. She lost 50 pounds after the surgery and feels like a different person.
“Now I don’t take naps,” she said. “I go from 5 o’clock in the morning until 11 at night, non-stop. I just have so much more energy than I did.”
Lepard said she tries to be an ambassador for women’s heart health. Women, she said, have different heart attack symptoms than men. The most common symptom for men and women is chest pain but women may have a heart attack without chest pressure. Women also are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, dizziness, extreme fatigue, nausea and back or jaw pain.
”I do a lot of echocardiograms on young women,” she said. “They’re scared. They don’t understand what is going on, what is wrong with their heart. I tell them my story and most of the time, it makes them feel a little better. I hold their hand and tell them you are in the right place and you did the right thing. We will do our best to get you well and you’ll feel a lot better afterward.”
“For me, it was hard to admit I was having problems,” she said. “I took care of everybody else – my son, my family, my friends. It was hard to reverse that and have someone take care of me. You need to realize you have to do that. Don’t ignore symptoms. Know your body. Know the changes. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and get checked out.”
Are you experiencing cardiac symptoms? Don’t ignore symptoms and delay care. We are here to safely care for you at a WellSpan cardiology practice near you.