The trek to the waterfall at Georgia’s Cloudland Canyon State Park in the 2017 was uneventful for Darlene Carroll, a research associate in commercial operations for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. But the journey back up the canyon’s steep walkway was a different story.
“I became short of breath and nauseous,” Darlene remembered. “It was a hot spring day, and there are a lot of stairs back to the parking lot. I felt better once I cooled down and rested a bit.”
A few months later, she experienced shortness of breath again walking at Chattanooga’s Riverbend Festival. This time, she also had pain in her neck and jaw.
Unlike the canyon hike, her symptoms didn’t subside after resting. She eventually headed for the hospital where she got a diagnosis that surprised her.
News Darlene didn’t anticipate
Tests showed that Darlene had a heart attack due to a significant blockage in her left main coronary artery. That’s the one that supplies blood to a large portion of the heart.
Doctors placed a stent there to improve blood flow. The diagnosis wasn’t easy for Darlene to process even knowing that heart disease and high blood pressure ran in her family.
And she’d been getting her cholesterol checked regularly as part of screenings recommended for her to manage her diabetes. It was always in the good range, she said, and she followed her doctor’s orders to manage her blood pressure.
“It was scary to hear that I’d had a heart attack,” Darlene said. “I didn’t have much of an appetite in the weeks that followed being in the hospital. I felt nervous a lot.”
Follow-up visit brings welcome news
At Darlene’s next medical appointment, her doctor’s words brought comfort. He said she was doing well with the stent in place. And he reminded her of things she could do to stay as healthy as possible.
“I appreciated the encouragement he gave me,” Darlene said. “It was a big relief to hear that I was doing well.”
In the months that followed, she resumed some activities she’d previously enjoyed. That included trail walks with her husband with the added safety measure of carrying hiking sticks.
She hasn’t tackled Cloudland Canyon again yet. But she hopes that won’t be too far in the future.
“I’d like to do that like a champ,” she said.
What she learned and wants to share
Darlene often reminds others to pay attention to what their bodies are telling them. She’s also quick to share that she learned symptoms of a heart attack can be different for men and women.
“Many people think of chest pain always accompanying a heart attack, but I never had that,” Darlene said. “If you have shortness of breath, neck or jaw pain take it seriously.”
She’s changed some of the foods she eats, and she wants to add more physical activity to her routines. And her outlook nearly four years after her heart attack is one of optimism and encouragement.
“I want to get in even better shape, and I’ll never take life for granted again.”
More on heart health from WellTuned
- 6 tips for preventing a second heart attack
- Why a heart attack looks different for women
- Does heart disease have a pattern?
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.