Australian woman reveals how undetected heart condition almost killed her

A young woman has warned others to always trust their bodies after a deadly health condition went undiagnosed for 36 years because she dismissed it as ‘stress’. 

Michelle Hampton, a 38-year-old public relations expert from Sydney, said if she hadn’t had her heart condition diagnosed two years ago there’s a very good chance she wouldn’t be alive today.  

Ms Hampton said she had suffered tiredness, dizziness and breathlessness for years and thought it was normal – but a week before Christmas 2016 she noticed her condition was deteriorating.

While she at first put it down to ‘stress’ – after deciding to go to the hospital she later found out she was suffering heart failure.  

‘Nothing will ever prepare you for being told you’ll die of heart failure without major surgery, I felt like I was being handed a death sentence,’ Ms Hampton told FEMAIL. 

A young woman whose heart condition went undiagnosed for 36 years has warned others to always trust their bodies after suffering mild symptoms for most of her adult life

A young woman whose heart condition went undiagnosed for 36 years has warned others to always trust their bodies after suffering mild symptoms for most of her adult life

A young woman whose heart condition went undiagnosed for 36 years has warned others to always trust their bodies after suffering mild symptoms for most of her adult life

The public relations expert from Sydney had lived with breathlessness and tiredness her whole life but hadn't thought for a moment she may have a more serious condition

The public relations expert from Sydney had lived with breathlessness and tiredness her whole life but hadn't thought for a moment she may have a more serious condition

The public relations expert from Sydney had lived with breathlessness and tiredness her whole life but hadn’t thought for a moment she may have a more serious condition

What is an atrial septal defect? 

An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of your heart (atria). The condition is present at birth (congenital).

Small defects may never cause a problem and may be found incidentally. It’s also possible that small atrial septal defects may close on their own during infancy or early childhood.

Source: Mayoclinic.org 

She was told she had an atrial septal defect (a hole in the heart) and partial anomalous pulmonary venous drainage (a rare congenital cardiac defect); conditions she had carried since birth. 

‘It was so shocking and unexpected especially as I didn’t realise anything was wrong with my heart nor did I have any family history of heart disease,’ she said.

Part of the problem with Ms Hampton’s condition was that she hadn’t connected her symptoms to the possibility it could be something far more serious. 

‘That’s the scary thing about heart disease. Sometimes the symptoms can be so mild they’re easily mistaken,’ she said.

Ms Hampton said nothing prepared her for being told that without surgery she would die of heart failure

Ms Hampton said nothing prepared her for being told that without surgery she would die of heart failure

Ms Hampton said nothing prepared her for being told that without surgery she would die of heart failure

‘For me, I felt lethargic, a little dizzy and times experienced mild breathlessness. As an adult I put this down to being a little overworked and stressed as a business owner.

The businesswoman had previously attempted to find out what was causing her health problems but she was only ever told to ‘slow down and relax’.

‘They all said the same thing “you jut need to rest and relax, slow down a little”, no one thought to look at my heart,’ Ms Hampton said. 

Part of the problem with Ms Hampton's condition was that she hadn't connected her mild symptoms of tiredness and breathlessness to the possibility these could be more serious

Part of the problem with Ms Hampton's condition was that she hadn't connected her mild symptoms of tiredness and breathlessness to the possibility these could be more serious

 Part of the problem with Ms Hampton’s condition was that she hadn’t connected her mild symptoms of tiredness and breathlessness to the possibility these could be more serious

Ms Hampton remembers her diagnosis as a ‘shocking’ event and how difficult it was to call her family and tell them the news.

 I was scared, uncertain about my future and angry that this was happening to me. I tried to remain hopeful but fear set in

‘I am very close to my identical twin sister so telling her was particularly heart breaking,’ she said. 

‘My parents were shocked also but naturally went into support and solutions mode – as all great parents do.’

Because of the severity of her condition, surgery needed to be scheduled within weeks of her diagnosis, a situation she described as ‘utterly overwhelming’.

‘I was scared, uncertain about my future and angry that this was happening to me. I tried to remain hopeful but fear set in which really tested my mental resilience,’ she said.

Telling her family, especially her identical twin sister, she needed life-saving surgery was 'particularly heart breaking'

Telling her family, especially her identical twin sister, she needed life-saving surgery was 'particularly heart breaking'

 Telling her family, especially her identical twin sister, she needed life-saving surgery was ‘particularly heart breaking’

In February 2017, Ms Hampton underwent a six-hour surgical procedure to repair her heart

In February 2017, Ms Hampton underwent a six-hour surgical procedure to repair her heart

In February 2017, Ms Hampton underwent a six-hour surgical procedure to repair her heart

What are the common symptoms of heart failure? 

* New or worsening shortness of breath (particularly during physical activity or waking you up at night)

* Weight gain

* Muscular fatigue, tiredness

* Swelling of ankles or legs

* Swelling of abdomen

* Dizziness

* Heart palpitations

* Chest pain or discomfort in parts of the upper body

* Unexplained coughing and wheezing

* Loss of appetite

* Constipation

Source: Better Health Channel 

 

Aside from the logistics of having to organise her life, the businesswoman said she needed to prepare herself for the operation physically as well as emotionally.

‘My heart was becoming weaker so I did as much exercise as I could safely do and I focused on a really healthy diet,’ she said.

‘I also had a number of counselling sessions to prepare myself emotionally but the best thing I did for my mental health was let go.

‘I let go of trying to control the process; let go of trying to influence the outcome. In the end I trusted the outcome would be positive.’

Her six-hour surgery in February 2017 was a success although waking up in ICU was the ‘hardest part’.

‘I can only describe it as feeling critically injured as I was in and out of consciousness. My chest felt like there was a heavy weight on it coupled with intense pain,’ Ms Hampton recalled.

‘Every time I drifted started drifting off to sleep on the first night post surgery, the alarms on the machines connected to me went off and I had nurses with me the whole time.’

In total, it took Ms Hampton three months to start 'feeling like myself' again, a stint that included six weeks in cardiac rehabilitation

In total, it took Ms Hampton three months to start 'feeling like myself' again, a stint that included six weeks in cardiac rehabilitation

In total, it took Ms Hampton three months to start ‘feeling like myself’ again, a stint that included six weeks in cardiac rehabilitation

Although recovery was slow Ms Hampton was determined to make it through with ‘strength and positivity’.

Recovery isn’t a linear journey, some days you feel like you’ve made solid progress and on others it feels like everything is at a standstill

In total, it took her three months to start ‘feeling like myself’ again, a stint that included six weeks in cardiac rehabilitation.

‘Recovery isn’t a linear journey, some days you feel like you’ve made solid progress and on others it feels like everything is at a standstill or you’ve regressed.’

After eight months, Ms Hampton’s life started to feel more normal – apart from the ‘odd bout of pain’.

Her surgery had left with a pericardial effusion – a condition that puts pressure on the heart from a build up of too much fluid. 

‘It is extremely painful, but generally not dangerous. I have been to hospital nine times since my surgery, however, at this stage there’s no real cure,’ she said. 

While today, Ms Hampton lives with some restrictions - her heart rate can't climb higher than 140 beats per minute - she's not on any medication

While today, Ms Hampton lives with some restrictions - her heart rate can't climb higher than 140 beats per minute - she's not on any medication

While today, Ms Hampton lives with some restrictions – her heart rate can’t climb higher than 140 beats per minute – she’s not on any medication

While today, Ms Hampton lives with some restrictions – her heart rate can’t climb higher than 140 beats per minute – she’s not on any medication, and only needs to see her cardiologist once a year. 

Although she holds the view she is one of the ‘fortunate ones’, to those who might be undergoing something similar she advises seeking the right support.

‘I received incredible support from The Heart Foundation. I was connected with other women who were going through the same thing which helped immensely.’

Ms Hampton believes she is one of 'the fortunate ones', and advises anyone undergoing anything difficult to seek support

Ms Hampton believes she is one of 'the fortunate ones', and advises anyone undergoing anything difficult to seek support

Ms Hampton believes she is one of ‘the fortunate ones’, and advises anyone undergoing anything difficult to seek support

She’s also quick to acknowledge her condition was diagnosed before anything ‘catastrophic happened’ and said not ‘everyone is so lucky’.

‘While I went through a major life challenge, it has left me feeling incredibly grateful for being alive and for everything I have in life.

‘As cliche as it sounds, the best way we can all live our lives is to live in the moment. To appreciate everything and everyone – and that’s okay.’        

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