• By Cynthia Weiss

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Heart health for myself and my family

September 12, 2021
cardiac patient Sandra Driggers outside with her children playing in the grass

Sandra Driggers is a nurse at Mayo Clinic in Florida who works in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine. This is her heart health story.

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I struggled with my weight for most of my life. I never really gave a lot of thought to being healthy (or unhealthy), or about how my weight and lifestyle played a role in my future health.

But a little over 16 years ago, I had a heart attack.

Back then, at age 39, I never once thought about my risk for heart disease or a heart attack. I always thought heart issues were an older person’s issue and more of a man’s concern. Definitely not a problem for a woman, especially not a young mom like myself.

It was 2005, and my sons were 6 and 12 at the time. Days were busy because I homeschooled them, did housework and generally, tried to do everything for everyone. Eventually, I started to notice I was having pain in my left arm anytime I would get stressed or exert myself in any way.

I kept telling myself that I had pulled a muscle. In the back of my mind, though, I was scared of the possibility that it could be something else. I wondered if it could be my heart. But, again, I was a young woman, so I convinced myself that those things do not happen to us.

As time passed, my symptoms worsened, but I continued to ignore them.  I remember going with my eldest son to pick up his baseball uniform. I couldn’t even walk across the field without stopping to catch my breath. When our family took a trip to a theme park in Orlando, Florida, I could barely go from one exhibit to the next. My heart was racing, and I got extremely winded very quickly.

Even as I would sit in my bathroom with an automated blood pressure cuff taking my pressure over and over again, watching it go higher, I'd tell myself that I was much too young for anything to happen to me.

The day finally came when I couldn’t ignore what was happening any longer. It was Aug. 30, 2005. The pain in my arm was tremendous.

My husband was at work, and I was too embarrassed to call emergency services. I felt ashamed at the thought that I might be having a heart attack. Instead, I called my mom and told her I pulled a muscle. I asked her to take me to the hospital for X-rays, even though I think by that time I knew what it really was. As I looked at my precious young boys, I hugged and kissed them and told them how much I loved them, honestly expecting to never see them again. I thought I was going to die.

Read the rest of Sandra's story on Sharing Mayo Clinic.