Maria's Journey To A Healthier Heart

Personal wellness sometimes takes a back seat to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but Maria Lungelow knows how important it is to make smart decisions when it comes to diet, exercise and day-to-day stress.

Maria, a Cincinnati native and proud Woodward High School alumna, is just like any working mom. She enjoys spending time with her family and grandkids, and is an avid lover of bookstores.  Eight years ago, however, Maria was faced with heart disease, also known as the “silent killer.” Heart disease runs in Maria’s family. “My mom died of an aneurysm and my sister died of a massive heart attack,” she says.

African American Women Are At Greater Risk for Heart Disease

It’s not uncommon for African Americans to have a family history of heart disease. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two in five African American adults have high blood pressure and are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke than white adults. Additionally, African American women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than white women. 

“One day my left arm went numb and I had pain in between my shoulder blades. I knew something wasn’t right. Knowing the signs from my mother and sister, I decided to make an appointment with my doctor. I told him everything that was going on and he sent me to the Good Samaritan Hospital for a stress test,” Maria says.

A stress test gathers information about how your heart works during physical activity. Exercise makes your heart pump harder and faster than usual; a stress test can reveal problems within your heart that might be unnoticeable otherwise. I said "Doc, I’m telling you now, I am not going to make it on that treadmill, and I’m feeling too weird,” says Maria.

Instead, Maria was scheduled to get an angiogram. An angiogram is an imaging test that uses X-rays to view your body’s blood vessels. A special dye is injected into a catheter and to the coronary arties and heart. “They injected the dye; I saw my artery swell and my heart beating fast. The nurse informed me they found a blockage and were going to put a stent in my heart right away,” Maria says.

The stent helped open narrowed arties and reduce Maria’s symptoms, which included chest pain, but Maria was not in the clear just yet. She still had a 90 percent blockage and was a step away from having a heart attack. She was told she would have to change her eating habits.  “Every day I take blood pressure pills, cholesterol pills and aspirin. I have to take a high dosage of aspirin because the blockage was so severe the first time,” Maria says.

Steps to a Healthier Life

Maria, who works for the TriHealth Heart Institute, talks to patients every day about not being scared to see a cardiologist. “I think as women we sometimes have the mentality of suck it up and keep going. You can’t ignore the signs.”

Maria has modified her lifestyle by watching how much sodium she intakes, walking more and baking foods versus frying them. 

“My mom was 70 and my sister was 50 when they passed away. I’m 48; I’m not trying to die early. I want to watch my grandkids grow up,” Maria says.

Sai K. Hanumanthu MD, with the TriHealth Heart Institute advises patients to make better decisions, just as Maria did. “Attention to personal health may get lost in the hectic shuffle of one’s day to day, busy life. However, as individuals we are faced with choices with very direct consequences on how we choose to live our lives – not only in the present, but a choice that may very well have a direct impact to our quality of living in the future,” he says.

Maria's Biggest Advice

  • Find out everything you can, go to your doctor and ask questions, especially if you have family history of a certain condition.
  • Don't ignore the signs; anything you deem as unusual, check it out. It may be something really simple or something life-changing.

Don't Ignore the Signs of a Heart Attack:

  • Pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating or shortness of breath.
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
Tags Heart

Last Updated: October 05, 2015