At just 37-years-old, Lilly Rocha was at the height of her career. However, the extreme stress from constant world travel and working more than 60 hours a week as a senior director of an event management firm had taken a heavy toll on her body. One morning, she woke up with severe jaw and chest pain, and the entire left side of her body felt numb. Despite Lilly’s discomfort, she decided to go to work because “I didn’t have a clue what was going on.”
Once at the office, Lilly mentioned the unusual symptoms to her boss, who insisted she was suffering a heart attack. A company colleague, and a heart attack survivor, immediately volunteered to bring her to the emergency room at Long Beach Medical Center.
Just a year before her heart attack, Lilly began experiencing “a periodic tingling on my left chest area,” but didn’t understand the symptom’s potential danger. Though not typical, Lilly attributed the chest pain to the stress and lack of sleep from her demanding job. However, a few days prior to having a heart attack, her friends and family noticed significant memory loss, “People would ask me simple things and I couldn’t remember,” says Lilly.
Now, four years after the unexpected heart attack, Lilly makes absolutely certain to take care of her heart and body, and listen to them when painful symptoms arise. Remaining conscious of her cardiac health is a habit she continues to work on every day, “When I’m under a lot of stress, I start having chest pains. I still have to be careful with my lifestyle and workload,” says Lilly.
According to one of Lilly’s cardiac nurses, Cindy Peters, RN, MSN, ACNP, Center for Women’s Cardiac Health, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Medical Center, 50 percent of women don’t realize that heart disease is their greatest health risk.
“The important thing for young women to understand is that we are all at risk and we need to focus on managing our risk factors, such as getting plenty of sleep, eating well and remaining aware of our cholesterol and blood pressure,” says Cindy.
Though she has no permanent muscle damage or clogged arteries, the effects of the heart attack have not completely left Lilly, “There is a psychological aspect to heart attacks. When you’re so young, having one feels much more serious,” says Lilly. Thankfully, that’s where care from the Center for Women’s Cardiac Health comes in handy. Having a supportive community to help squelch her fears and keep Lilly’s recovery a priority “involves me in women’s cardiac health and opens me up to fundamental heart issues.”