Heart to heart: Multiple heart attack survivor reaches out to others

By Staff
Posted 6/22/10

    Brighton resident Kerry Olin clearly remembers the night her heart stopped.     It was January 2009, and Olin just finished teaching her class of fourth-graders. On …

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Heart to heart: Multiple heart attack survivor reaches out to others


    Brighton resident Kerry Olin clearly remembers the night her heart stopped.

    It was January 2009, and Olin just finished teaching her class of fourth-graders. On her way home from work, she and her son, Wyatt, stopped by a drive-thru for a quick dinner and ate in the car.

    When she got home, Olin said she suddenly wasn’t feeling well and thought she might feel better after a shower. The pain and fatigue only got worse.

    “After my shower, I started feeling chest pains,” she said. “It wasn’t like a typical kind of pain. It was on my side, and it made me nauseous. Something kind of told me I was having a heart attack.”

     Olin, 43 at the time, immediately called her husband, John. He suggested she take one of the nitroglycerin pills she received after spending a night in the hospital two years earlier for chest pains. She popped one of the pills, and John began driving home, checking in with her on the way.

    Because Olin and her family live several miles east of Brighton, John also called one of the neighbors to check on her until he could get home.

    “When my neighbor came over to check on me, I was in pretty bad shape,” she said “I was really lightheaded, and my neighbor asked if I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest — and I did. So we all piled into the car, and we went to the hospital.”

    John met his wife and the neighbors at the hospital. Olin was sitting in bed being hooked up to an IV when the neighbor who brought her to the hospital commented that she was looking a little better.

    That’s the last thing Olin remembers before she flatlined.

   The PVMC hospital staff members jumped into action and were able to revive Olin and stabilize her enough to have her flown to Aurora Medical Center. Doctors determined a piece of plaque lodged itself in a left artery — adding up to a 100 percent blockage.  

    After surgery, doctors suggested an extended medical leave from work. Olin spent the next several months concentrating on her health. She went to cardiac rehab three times each week, gave up fast food restaurants and began exercising more than ever before.

    At Thanksgiving time last year, Olin said she was so grateful to still be around that she sent the staff at PVMC a basket to express her appreciation for all they did. Staffers would recognize her as the kind patient who sent them the basket when she was rushed to the hospital again in December.

    Only 11 months after the first, Olin was experiencing her second heart attack.

     “My second heart attack, I felt pain in my arm and my neck that made me nauseous,” she said. “It felt like somebody was trying to pull my arm off.”

    When she arrived at PVMC that December morning, Olin’s cardiac doctor, Behzad Molavi, rushed her right away to the hospital’s cardiac cath lab. He discovered 95 percent blockage in the same artery that was blocked, causing the first heart attack. Molavi performed the surgery this time, and Olin is now back in recovery again, just finishing up this round of cardiac rehab.

     Olin feels like she doesn’t fit the profile of a typical heart patient.

    “The people I work with were totally shocked,” she said, “because I’m pretty thin and athletic.”

    She does have a family history of high cholesterol. But no other family members have suffered from heart attacks. But, she said, she can think of a couple of things that may have contributed to her health problems. Her heart attacks have been wake-up calls that she needs to eat healthier and work on reducing stress and anxiety.

    “The big think was I was kind of a junk-food junkie,” she said. “On our commute, if both my son and I were hungry, we’d go through the drive-thru. I’ve changed that.”

    In addition to eating better, she’s learned how to exercise more effectively, how to read food labels and simply how to not worry so much.

    “I think before this, I would take everything personally,” she said. “I would try really hard to fix things even if they couldn’t be fixed. I was just beating my head against the wall. I’ve learned life it too short. Do what you can do and move on. It’s not worth upsetting yourself over.

    “I’ve also learned how important family is,” she added. “My family is my priority.”

    Recovery from a heart attack can be quite frightening, Olin said.

    “When you first come home from the hospital, that first night is very scary because you’re not hooked up to monitors,” she said. “The machines seem to be comforting because you can see your heart beat on the machine.”

    The moment her heart had stopped during the first heart attack, Olin said she felt no pain, only peace.

    “When I flatlined, I didn’t feel any pain and I worried that could happen again while I was sleeping when I got home,” she said.

    She has slowly been working through her own fears. After all she’s been through in the past year and a half, Olin decided to help form a support group at Platte Valley Medical Center for other heart patients and their families.

    “I’m trying to let cardiac patients at Platte Valley Medical Center know there are people they can call once they get home,” she said. “Just having other people to talk to who understand can really help.

    “The purpose of this group is to provide support to each other as we face changes in our lifestyle due to heart disease,” she continued. “Come meet other cardiac patients in our community, and share your story, your concerns, your fears, and most importantly your triumphs. We will also review what we have learned in cardiac rehab., have guest speakers, and plan ways to spread the word to our community about heart disease.”

    Olin is setting up her office in the hospital’s volunteer department this week. The cardiac support group’s next meeting will be July 21 at PVMC.

    “Please come,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be just heart patients. It can be those with high cholesterol, those with a family history. Come and check out the amount of information you can get and apply to your life.”

     If all goes well this summer, Olin plans to teach kindergarten part time in the fall. She plans to keep her own health a top priority, while helping others stay healthy as well.  

    In addition to exercise, she advises those with health problems to listen to themselves and their intuition about their body. If she hadn’t called her husband when she felt like she was having her first heart attack, she could have died at home, doctors later told her.

    “The biggest thing is to listen to your body,” she said. “If you feel weird, go to the doctor. Just listen to your body. It’s better to have it checked out.”

    She also advises heart patients to get the proper support and believes she can help by facilitating the free support group at PVMC.

    “This hospital has been great. But once you go home, you’re like, now what?” she said. “Being able to connect with other people who have gone through the same thing is so important.”

Cardiac Support Group

For heart patients and their families

July 21, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Cardiovascular Lab Waiting Room

Platte Valley Medical Center

1600 Prairie Center Parkway, Brighton

For more information, e-mail Kerry at kerryolin5@gmail.com



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