Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
American Heart Month - A Veteran’s Story
February is American Heart Month. VA Women's Health Services, in collaboration with the American Heart Association, is joining this national movement to raise awareness and education about heart disease and stroke among women Veterans.
Here is one Veteran’s story…
“Just a Normal Day”
In July 2017, on a blistering Oklahoma summer day, Jeanette Hester, Human Resources Staff Supervisor for the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, walked from her office to the main campus of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.
“It was just a normal day,” said Hester, who served 21 years in the Army. “I had just had a staff meeting and then I grabbed some paperwork to go up the hill. As I was walking up, it was hard to breathe and I had to stop. It was pretty hot. I didn’t think a whole lot about it.”
When she got to Prosthetics, Hester told Lisa Hamilton, a VA co-worker, the she felt tired and anxious. Hamilton assessed Hester and noted that she was hot and clammy to the touch. Hester also described feeling pressure in the center of her chest.
“Lisa tried to get me to go to the Emergency Department,” said Hester. “I wouldn’t go. I was stressed coming in to work that day. I’m just tired (she thought).”
Not taking no for an answer, Hamilton and two Prosthetics staff members took Hester to the Emergency Department in a wheelchair.
An Electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed Hester was having a heart attack.
“I was in disbelief because I had never had any health problems,” said Hester. “No blood pressure issues. Nothing.”
She was transported to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa where she received four stents and admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit.
While St. Francis staff prepped Hester to see family, her heart stopped.
“I crashed and coded,” said Hester. “I didn’t even know anyone was there.”
A week later, Hester received a pacemaker and a defibrillator.
"I’m on medication for the rest of my life, but I’m still here.”
Since being discharged, Hester has had to come to terms with a new reality.
“I feel fine, but I’m limited now,” she said. “When I start doing things like exercising, I can tell the difference. It’s not as easy for me and that’s really hard for me to accept. I have to monitor my weight and my blood pressure every week. I’m on medication for the rest of my life, but I’m still here.”
Looking back, Hester said there were warning signs.
“Two months leading up to the heart attack, there were signs like unexplained weight gain,” she said. “I couldn’t lose the weight. I was tired all the time. I would go home from work and just pass out on the couch, which is not normal. And they said that was probably because my heart was getting weaker. I just didn’t know it.”
Hester encourages other women to pay close attention to their body.
“It was telling me that there was a problem,” she said. “But I wasn’t paying attention to it. I knew the exhaustion level that I had and I knew the amount of stress I had. My weight wasn’t normal, but I was just brushing it all off as just stress instead of going and getting it checked out and finding out what was wrong. Pay attention to your body and learn how to manage stress.”
Heart Disease in Women
An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases.
The symptoms of heart attack can be different in women versus men, and are often misunderstood—even by some physicians.
Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke; however 80 percent of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented by lifestyle changes and education.
We encourage you to Know Your Numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI (body mass index).