Success Story

Diane Kerr

Knowledge and mindfulness is the key to heart health

It was Christmas Day 2007, a day normally filled with anticipation of family and traditions. During the meal preparation, a feeling of extreme exhaustion and jaw pain led me to ask for help to complete the meal.

Leading up to the day, I hadn’t been feeling well. A few months earlier, I experienced a terrible pain in my chest. I experienced this while driving, and had to pull over; it was that kind of pain. I knew something was wrong. However, when I mentioned it to my doctor, he gave me a prescription for nitroglycerin and sent me home. I didn’t feel I was taken seriously.

That Christmas day was different. After feeling debilitating exhaustion and pain in my jaw and arm, I knew I needed to see a cardiologist, so I asked my family doctor, Mark Schmidt, for a referral.

I went to see Dr. John Lesser who is a research cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF) and a practicing cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute. I told him all of my history, and he ordered some tests. A week later, he called and said he would like for me to come to the hospital right away. The test revealed I had severe blockages. My husband was out of town for the day, but I didn’t want to go without him.

I was really close to having a heart attack, and I was frightened. I felt scared to go to sleep because I didn’t know what might happen to me in the middle of the night. The next day, I underwent an angioplasty procedure and had four stents inserted in my heart.

I feel much better now, but it hasn’t been an easy road. About six months after the initial angioplasty, I had another episode. I was experiencing severe chest pain again. One of my stents was blocked, and I needed a new procedure. Because of this, I’m attuned to any feeling of chest or jaw pain. I stay keenly aware and keep notes on it. Additionally, I go back every year to see Dr. Lesser to make sure everything is okay. I just appreciate his care so much because he’s such an excellent doctor.

After one of my hospital visits, I agreed to be a part of an MHIF study to assess diet, exercise and mindfulness as they related to the heart. I was a part of the meditation and mindfulness component. It was a wonderful course, especially since I was very apprehensive and worried about my condition. When I would do the deep breathing exercises I learned, it would really allow me to relax. The relaxation helped me to cope. Any time now when I feel anxious, I still use my mindfulness techniques. It’s remarkable how much it can calm one’s body down.

The meditation and mindfulness course also taught me about eating. When I eat, I try not to be in such a hurry. I savor each bite of food and enjoy the meal. Also, during some classes, we took walks just to enjoy nature. We would focus on the smallest of things instead of always keeping our minds on the big picture. It felt really peaceful.

After the study ended, I was encouraged to join The Women’s Only-Cardiac Support Group, a group that is jointly sponsored by MHIF and the Minneapolis Heart Institute. Each Monday evening meeting features speakers, most of whom are specialists. We discuss issues in diet, exercise, and well-being. I’ve learned so much since joining the group. It has been a source of inspiration and knowledge. My motto is “education is the pathway to a healthier heart.”

I am lucky because both my husband and my children check up on me. My husband asks how I’m feeling every day. My daughter and sons call me regularly to make sure I’m okay.

Today, I feel a lot more in control of my health because I have the knowledge that I’ve gained through the Women’s-Only Cardiac Support Group. I try every day to lead a healthful life. I try to relax more and to not let little things bother me so much. I know I can only do so much today and I have to be satisfied with that. I need to rest and take care of my body so that I can live in a good way.