Thursday, March 8, 2012
It was February 14th, 2007, when my mother, Nancy Lee Griebel, drove herself to the hospital. She was 59, the proud mother of four children, a devoted wife, an active volunteer in her community, an avid golfer and an accountant's assistant during tax season. Everything my mother did served to help people, it was just her nature to make sure that everyone else was taken care of, and she often put herself aside to do so. When she felt as if she had blacked out a few times that Valentine's morning, she finally decided to take care of herself. The doctors administered some tests to check her stress levels and blood pressure and sent her on her way. They told her they would be in touch regarding her results. After a few weeks passed by with no contact from the hospital, I remember her saying to us, "Well, no news is good news, I must be alright." We all assumed she knew best, after all, mothers always do.
On March 8th, 2007, I received a phone call from my little brother, Grant, while I was at work. "Something has happened to Mom, they don't know what but she collapsed at work and she's been rushed to the hospital. You need to come in town immediately." I still remember how his voice shook when he spoke and that I felt so terrible that the youngest member of our family had to be the one to call me with such heavy news. Without hesitation, I left work, sped home, packed bags (not ONE item of clothing in black, on the principle of hope) and rushed from Kansas City, MO to Omaha, NE in record time, less than 3 hours. I arrived at the hospital, stepped outside into sunny 70 degrees and briefly pondered the irony of such joyful weather on what I knew was one of the worst days of my life. I was scared to go inside but more scared not to, so somehow I managed my way in and up the elevator to the third floor where a nurse led me to the room. And then I saw her lying there in the hospital bed, my dad, Dave, my sister, Emily and our brother, Grant, by her side, everyone in a state of shock. "Carrie (the oldest sibling) is on her way from Tulsa." "What happened?" I asked, tears welling, brimming, spilling, chest heaving, heart pounding, shock. "Your mother had a heart attack at work, a girl in her office tried to resuscitate her before the ambulance arrived but she's been gone for a while. They think there's a strong possibility of brain damage..." choke, group tears roll, "is this real", I ask myself, "this is surreal. Mom's as healthy as an ox (except her smoking habit) she's only 59, that's too young for a heart attack, this can't really be happening...."
It certainly was happening. Once Carrie arrived, with all the immediate family members in place, the doctor felt the time was right to let us know that they could keep her alive by use of machines but that her brain was in a vegetative state. We all agreed immediately that Mom would never want to exist in such a way. It was just so beneath her, she was so vibrant and engaging and inspirational in life. We took a vote as a family and unanimously concluded that we had to pull the plug... I remember the moment her soul left the room and her hands went cold and there was such an odd moment of peace and then there was agony and so many tears. Our mother was gone, just like that, and no one even knew she was sick to begin with. It was that sudden. That surreal. In that moment, our lives changed forever.
The autopsy later revealed that one of her arteries was blocked over 80%, a fact that would have become known weeks earlier if the hospital had administered the right test. The Coronary catheterization (angiogram) involves injecting a dye into the blood stream that can be detected by x-ray to reveal blockages. It's mandatory to give a man complaining of chest pain and/or other heart attack symptoms this test, however, it's not mandatory to give this test to women having heart attack symptoms. Had they given mom this test, it would have revealed the blockage, she would have had surgery and she would still be here today. At first, we were outraged at the hospital for what seemed to be such obvious negligence. Some of us wanted to take the matter into litigation but our father didn't think it would honor her spirit in doing so. We realized from our experience that there is a humongous gap in communication between women patients with heart disease symptoms and the doctors and hospitals who are supposed to diagnose and treat those women. We found that many doctors weren't even aware of the symptoms and facts about women and heart disease and therefore were crippled in any effort to help. This gap in communication is what was taking the lives of our mothers, our sisters, our wives, our friends....something needed to be done! We decided to educate ourselves on the facts regarding women's heart health and planned an avenue of spreading our knowledge. We decided to host a golf tournament in honor of Mom at Oak Hill's Country Club in Omaha, NE, where we all grew up together and bonded over playing golf as a family. We called the golf tournament, "Nancy's Heart", and through all our efforts in reaching out to our networks as a family, we raised over $40,000 that we donated to the American Heart Association to use for research for women's heart health. The golf tournament, even though an obvious success, ended up being a one time only event. The emotional and physical energy me and my family put into the fundraiser was so taxing, it was just all we could handle at the time.
Fast forward to March 8th, 2012, five years later, heart disease is STILL the number one killer of women, taking far more lives than all cancers combined. There is still a huge gap in communication between doctors and patients in this matter. The most important thing is to let as many people know that heart disease IS the number one killer of women. Unfortunately, as is the case with all modern women who multitask- as care takers and breadwinners and mothers- there is no time for ourselves. We MUST take time for ourselves, keep a journal of our body's symptoms as we are in tune with ourselves and we must TRUST when something feels off, REPORT it to our doctors, friends, family members when we feel it and DEMAND the proper care and right tests. We HAVE to take care of our own hearts.
It's so easy to put ourselves last in order to take care of all our loved ones, but we need a reminder to take care of our hearts. As co-owner and designer of Scarlett Garnet Jewelry, I wanted to create a necklace to do just such a thing. Many people are now familiar with the Red Dress campaign, which is phenomenal to me that they've created such an awareness amongst women of all ages at risk. However, I see a gap in awareness due to age. Many women in their mid 20's up to early 40's don't realize that they, too, are at risk for heart disease. I wanted to create a design to speak to this generation of women, after all, they represent the future of our country. As a member of this age group, I see the Anatomical Heart Necklace to be something I would wear proudly and often (and do!), it's not as obvious as the red dress but I see it as a more universal design, something that one woman would give a knowing glance to another across the room in approval. Yes, we share the knowledge. We are armed to protect ourselves, to protect our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, daughters. We are empowered by our knowledge to protect our hearts, good job that you are taking care of you and yours. I truly feel that educating this younger generation of women about heart disease is the best way to prevent unnecessary deaths from happening to other families.
So, listen up! Learn the facts! Here goes:
Heart attack symptoms in women are significantly more random and subtle then the symptoms in men. There's no chest pain followed by dramatic, Hollywood collapse. Instead, there are little things like shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue. These symptoms are so subtle and ordinary that many women ignore them or pass them off as the flu, acid reflux, or anxiety attacks. So how do women protect themselves? There are preventative measures such as not smoking, controlling certain conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, staying physically active, eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight and reducing and managing stress. Regularly scheduled visits to the doctor are mandatory and keeping a journal of any strange body changes is highly recommended so that these things can be shared with your doctor to see if they're possible heart attack symptoms. As stated previously, we are in tune with our bodies and need to be honest with ourselves when something feels amiss.
After five years, I finally have the strength to tell my family's story. Heart disease robbed us of the most inspirational woman we all unanimously agree ever existed. I literally wear her name on my sleeve every day with the words, "Nancy Lee" tattooed on my left arm. Her spirit lives on in me and my family and her death nearly ruined us. Mom was the glue. Mom's are always the glue that keep every family together. In honor of Nancy Lee (Schulenberg) Griebel, Scarlett Garnet Jewelry offers the stainless steel and silver fill Anatomical Heart Necklace for $65. We've partnered up with Kansas City's Saint Luke Hospital to donate 15% of each necklace sale to fund research and education of women's heart health. They have provided a flyer of information that we will mail with each necklace purchased to educate the buyer but also to encourage spreading the knowledge. WOMEN - WE MUST PROTECT OUR HEARTS. Mine is made of steel, find your own hearts' strength and spread the word, protect your loved ones and always remember to protect yourself.
This is the hardest thing I've ever had to put into words. I thank Katie Miller, my business partner, who was one of my rocks when my mother passed. I thank St. Luke's Hospital for allowing us to donate to their worthy women's heart health department. I thank my family for all the good times we shared with mom and all the amazing memories we share. I thank all my friends who have been solidly there for me and I thank you, for reading this. Please forward it to all the women you love in your life. It will make a difference.
This is the information you will receive if you order a necklace to educate yourself and the women in your life!
The Heart Truth about the Hearts of Women
Women perceive breast cancer to be the leading cause of death in women
♥ Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women over the age of 35
♥ 1 in 4 women will die of some form of cardiovascular disease
♥ 1 in 30 women will die from breast cancer
Women and men will experience the same signs and symptoms of a heart attack
♥ Women are more likely to have a ‘silent’ heart attack, one without clear signs and symptoms
Crushing chest pain (radiates to neck, jaw, arm)
Unexplained exhaustion, fatigue, weakness
Indigestion, squeezing, full feeling
Shortness of breath not associated with exertion
Discomfort in upper shoulder blades in back
Sudden rapid heartbeat
Discomfort in one or both arms
Unexplained dizziness or sweating not associated with exertion
Women seek immediate medical attention when experiencing signs and symptoms of a heart attack
♥ Women believe only men have heart attacks
♥ Women do not recognize symptoms of a heart attack are often different than men
♥ Women are afraid of embarrassment if symptoms are false alarms and do not want to bother their physician
♥ Women delay seeking medical attention 4-6 hours longer than men
The standard exercise treadmill test provides accurate diagnostic information in both men and women
♥ The standard exercise treadmill test has been analyzed/researched only in men
♥ Exercise treadmill testing alone is not accurate in detecting heart disease in women
Life expectancy after a heart attack affects men and women equally
♥ 38% of women, versus 25% of men will die within one year of a recognized
♥ 35% of women, versus 18% of men heart attack survivors will have another heart
attack within six years
♥ 46% of women, versus 22% of men heart attack survivors will be disabled with
heart failure within six years