Mathilde will be taking part in Coastrek Sydney in loving memory of her friend Ana.
She has graciously shared Ana’s story with us in an effort to educate more women about their heart health as she and her teammates in ‘Team Ana’ prepare to hike for healthy hearts:
Ana was an amazing woman. Bright, kind, generous, loyal. An absolute Portuguese beauty, a loving wife and devoted mum to three young children.
As a professional, she worked on programs to combat infectious diseases, primarily in third-world countries. A very busy bee, but she managed well, with a positive and joyous attitude.
Only weeks after we met, we were close and we would share everything with each other. She was my vault for secrets and ugly truths. Solid and safe. When I visualise our friendship it’s bright, blue and clear like a summer’s day. Not a cloud in the sky. Warm and easy. When she passed away I was devastated.
By sharing her story and taking part in Coastrek I feel will contribute to the general awareness around women and heart disease while raising funds for valuable research – and I know Ana would appreciate this…
About Ana’s heart failure
It started late 2021, when Ana had her first heart attack, just three months after giving birth to her third child, a daughter she named Mathilde after me...
She had felt a pain on her chest and her arm, but the pain faded and she didn’t think much of it. Why would she? She was a healthy 37-year-old woman. A couple of days later the pain came back. On her chest, in her arm and her jawline. She thought it might be a panic attack but wanted to rule out the possibility of anything more serious like a heart attack. She phoned her GP who verified signs of a heart attack and she was taken to hospital by ambulance straight away.
On arrival, the medical team did an endoscopy and while doing so, her heart stopped. Ana was resuscitated for the first time. Upon further investigation the medical team discovered that Ana didn't just have a heart attack, but a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Disceciton or SCAD where the inner wall of the artery collapses. This is a rare type of heart attack but more prominent in postpartum women.
A couple of days later, the night before she was meant to go home, Ana suffered a second heart attack which caused the whole coronary artery to tear, and she had to undergo emergency bypass surgery. The surgery failed which made things very complicated.
Doctors concluded that the only way to save her life, was by giving her a support heart called an LVAD - a pump that is used for patients that reach end-stage heart failure. Ana spent a total of 33 days in the ICU sometimes being closer to death than life but finally got better and eventually came home to her children and husband just before Christmas.
She learned to live with this support heart, even though it had an immense impact on her life. But she pushed through. Went back to work, caught up with friends, went on holidays. It was tough and different, she was grieving her old life with a healthy heart, but she was grateful for still being there with her children and husband.
After eight months with the LVAD, she started having chest pains which got worse over time. She was worried. She called the doctors and was told it could be the strengthening of the muscles or the pump rubbing on the ribs. They did some x-rays, and things seemed ok until the morning of 30 September 2022. Her breathing became more difficult (not uncommon in heart patients with an LVAD) so she decided to go to the ER. Things deteriorated quickly and unexpectedly. On Monday 3 October she passed away after only three nights in the ICU.
Doctors are still trying to figure out what really happened and why she passed away but one thing became very clear......signs of heart failure and heart disease related risk in women are not taken seriously enough. For men, modern medicine throws the kitchen sink at it when there are signs of an onset of cardiovascular issues. For women the same does not apply. Complaints are too often dismissed, because too little is known.
Remembering Ana and why I’m taking part in Coastrek
I’m now preparing for Coastrek and want to share Ana’s story with hopefully many others in Australia.
Being a heart patient herself since 2021, Ana was shocked by how little was known so if sharing her story results in educating even one woman she would be pleased. I’ve now learned the enormous wave of grief, trauma and sadness heart disease brings. Living with heart failure, not being able to trust your body (your heart!), coupled with the devastating impact on family - the loss of a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend.
I personally also really support the concept of Coastrek. Instead of reading endless books on how to be healthy and happy, I think for many, Coastrek is an excellent start to get off your phone and laptops, go outside, enjoy being active and have conversation with friends you can trust. And don't forget to tell them they are special to you.
Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in women in Australia with over 6,000 deaths each year. Despite this, evidence shows women are less likely to speak to their GP about heart disease or have a heart health check than men. Funding from Coastrek will support programs that educate, promote and deliver improved heart health care for Australian women and encourage more regular heart health checks to help identify and manage risk factors.