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The Light at the End of the Tunnel: Learning from Heart Disease

Parris McBride recalls the day she thought she was going to die.

“All I saw were the white lights of the cars ahead of us turning into one big light. And then it got darker – as if the lights were closing into a tunnel.”

Parris was in the passenger seat with her frantic sister and teenage daughter racing to Lexington Medical Center. She was cold, clammy, weak and nearly unconscious.

With severe chest pains and a terrible headache, the Batesburg mother was having a serious cardiac event. And she was only 41 years old. It was December 9, 2014.

Parrisi McBride

“I didn’t want to die. I have kids and I need to take care of them.”

Inside Lexington Medical Center, tests revealed severe blockages in her arteries. Parris needed open heart surgery to survive.

It was the pivotal moment for heart problems that began months before.

In October, Parris started having back, shoulder and neck pain – and, one night while working in the kitchen – another weird feeling.

“I thought, ‘My goodness, I’m having some bad indigestion.’” She chewed nearly a whole bottle of Tums® and it didn’t go away.

At first, she thought she was tired and stressed. Both of her parents had died recently, and she was a busy single mom of two daughters with a job as a salon manager.

But with a history of heart disease in her family – including a father having heart surgery in his ‘30s and a grandfather with a heart attack in his ‘50s, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a smoking habit, she went to Urgent Care. Tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack. She had two stents placed.

Soon, the symptoms came back.

“I couldn’t even walk up a flight of steps without not being able to breathe,” she said. “Even talking on the phone would make me out of breath.”

The chest pain continued – and got so bad that Parris was vomiting, too.

“It was like someone was stabbing a knife right between my heart and my esophagus,” she said. “It didn’t feel like an elephant on my chest, but it was the worst pain you could ever describe.”

It all led up to the day the symptoms became unbearable and her sister had to rush her to the hospital, where Parris learned that more arteries were blocked and she would need open heart surgery. Surgeons also needed to fix a blockage in her carotid artery.

“At first, I had a lot of fear and anxiety. I had some anger. But I also had hope that everything would go away and I’d be better.”

Stories of women such as Parris who have suffered from heart disease are a primary reason that Lexington Medical Center is focusing on educating women about their hearts in 2015.

Parris attended cardiac rehabilitation at Lexington Medical Center Lexington. She’s recovering from her bypass surgery and getting stronger every day.

For women like her, she has advice. “Be aware of what’s around you to be healthy. You can say every day that you’re going to quit smoking or eat right – but you have to commit to it.”

She also turns to her faith. Her late father was a pastor at Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington, where Parris grew up, graduating from Lexington High School.

“You ask yourself, ‘Why me, God? Why did you put this in my life?’ And for the first time in my life, I can finally say that I know why this experience has happened. It’s my calling to go around and make women more aware about heart health.”

She adds that her 8-year-old daughter asked her if what she had was contagious. She told her “No,” but that it can be hereditary. So, she’s working to get her family on a healthy path, too.

“I have two beautiful children. This is my third chance at life. I want to do it right this time.”

Wear Red Day

Did you remember to wear red today? Lexington Medical Center employees gathered to take a special photo today for Wear Red Day, a date designed to raise awareness that heart disease is the #1 killer of men and women in the United States.

Lexington Medical Center wants community members to “Just Say Know” to heart disease by learning their risk factors and talking to their doctors about ways to stay healthy.

Your goals should be:

Blood Pressure: Less than 120/80

Total Cholesterol: Less than 20

LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol): Less than 100 (Less than 70 if you have other risk factors)

HDL Cholesterol (Good Cholesterol): Greater than 60 is optimal. Less than 50 is a risk for women and less than 40 is a risk for men.

Triglycerides: Less than 150

Blood Glucose: Less than 100 (fasting value)

Body Mass Index (BMI): Less than 25

Daily Exercise: More than 30 minutes is ideal, but you should strive for at least 20 minutes.

Daily Relaxation: More than 30 minutes

Cigarettes Per Day: Zero (and no secondhand smoke)

For more information, visit LexMed.com/Know.

When Does Your Heart Need a Checkup?

We have routine mammograms, colonoscopies and dental check ups. But how do we know for sure our hearts are healthy? Dr. Amy Epps of Lexington Cardiology, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, answers that question in this WIS Health U news report with Dawndy Mercer-Plank.