Real Women, Real Stories: Jen Hyde, 27

Courtesy of the American Heart Association 

Jen Hyde underwent open-heart surgery as a child due to congenital heart defects. But it was the discovery that she’d need a heart valve replacement at age 25 that motivated the writer from Brooklyn, NY to advocate for her health and women’s heart research.

Hyde was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital defect in which the heart doesn’t pump adequate blood to the lungs before circulating it through the body. But after undergoing open-heart surgery to repair the problem, life for her went on as normal, except for avoiding strenuous physical activity.

During a regular checkup in 2009, Hyde learned that although she hadn’t noticed any symptoms, she had developed pulmonary hypertension, meaning her heart was having to work hard to pump blood into the lungs to pick up oxygen. The diagnosis set into motion several changes for her; she had moved to New York for college six years earlier, but still saw her longtime cardiologist in Orange County, California.

Hyde found a cardiologist specializing in adult patients with congenital heart defects in New York and underwent heart valve replacement in 2010, coordinating the surgery with a break in her graduate school program. Recovery was slow as she learned to listen to her body’s cues to avoid overexhaustion.

She now eats a healthy diet, limiting sodium and alcohol, and is careful to get regular moderate exercise to help her condition without overworking her heart.

Hyde said the experience taught her the importance of having a good rapport with your doctor and being fully engaged, no matter your condition.

“Every time you go to the doctor, you’re contributing to a conversation about the condition you have or experience you have, and that plays a role into what happens in the future,” she said.

Hyde currently has a bioprosthetic valve, but will one day need a transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR).

“I can’t help my condition, but I can make good lifestyle choices,” she said. “The stronger my heart is, the longer my heart valve will last.”

Hyde also gained a new appreciation for the research that leads to medical advances and has integrated her experiences into her writing. She also volunteers as a Heart Valve Ambassador for the American Heart Association to help raise awareness and advocate for more medical research, especially women’s research studies.

“I want to help people with their journey,” she said. “I get to live a full life as a result of getting the newest technology, and whatever new technology is available when I need my next surgery.”

Symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, the most common heart attack symptom in women is chest pain or discomfort. It’s important to note that women are more likely to experience other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

What to do during a heart attack

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms:

  • Do not wait to call for help. Dial 9-1-1, make sure to follow the operator’s instructions and get to a hospital right away.
  • Do not drive yourself or have someone drive you to the hospital unless you have no other choice.
  • Try to stay as calm as possible and take deep, slow breaths while you wait for the emergency responders.

Why it’s important to know the symptoms of a heart attack

Women who consider themselves healthy often misdiagnose the symptoms of a heart attack because they don’t think it could happen to them. That is why it’s crucial to learn about heart disease and stroke, know your numbers, live a heart-healthy lifestyle and be aware of the risk factors of heart disease.

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