Body

'I had three heart attacks when I was 36'

“When you’re a busy working mother, you just think, ‘I must be coming down with something’, but I was obviously feeling really ill.”

By Ciara Pratt

Taking time to smell the roses is how Cynthia Doole (37) now approaches life. She hasn’t let the events of the last year change her bright and bubbly outlook, but the Cambridge mother-of-two says she now lives her life at a slower pace.

Aged just 36, Cynthia’s world changed when she suffered three heart attacks in the space of 10 days.

“Yes, it was a pretty full-on year last year for us,” Cynthia chuckles, making quite the understatement.

She finished her shift as an early childhood teacher on April 6 last year, then headed off to pick up her son Elliott (9) from school and meet with his teachers. She knew she wasn’t feeling her best, but she pushed those feelings aside.

“When you’re a busy working mother, you just think, ‘I must be coming down with something’, but I was obviously feeling really ill.”

“It’s all a bit of a blur,” she admits. “I had strapped in my youngest, Elena (4), and I was feeling dizzy when I suddenly collapsed.”

Cynthia’s blood pressure had “hit the floor”, she recalls. By some miracle, one of the parents still at school was an off-duty paramedic and rushed to her aid, while an ambulance was called.

After recovering from  bypass surgery, Cynthia has good reason to jump for joy with (from left) Graeme, Elliott and Elena.
After recovering from bypass surgery, Cynthia has good reason to jump for joy with (from left) Graeme, Elliott and Elena.

“There was this heavy, aching pain in my chest, radiating up my arm,” she tells of the moment it began dawning on her that she was possibly experiencing a heart attack.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness, what’s happening? I’m too young for a heart attack!’

“I’m quite a spiritual person, as well,” she reveals. “I believe it was a bit of a miracle that my blood pressure tanked first because it could have been while I was behind the wheel driving my children.”

Cynthia was rushed to hospital, where doctors could not pinpoint the reason for her heart attack at such a young age.

“The complicating factor is that I’m adopted, so my parents are Pakeha New Zealanders, but I’m from the Philippines. In terms of my family history, there isn’t too much we know. There hadn’t really been any indication that I had a heart problem.”

Doctors put stents [mesh tubes] into the arteries around Cynthia’s heart, then sent her home to recuperate. But it was that week, when out for lunch with her mum, that Cynthia felt ill again and feared the worst.

“I knew something was wrong,” she says. “I felt heaviness in my chest and started to get very sweaty.”

As it turns out, her arteries had closed around the stents, blocking blood supply to her heart. Doctors were still left scratching their heads at what could have been causing the condition and, after further treatment didn’t work, Cynthia had her third heart attack in hospital.

A triple bypass, which was the last resort, was now the only option.

“I didn’t dwell on what was happening,” she says. “I knew what it entailed. I knew what the risks were and the odds were not fantastic. But we had to do it.

“It was almost soul-destroying for my parents. I thought to myself if I get too worried about this, it won’t help me or my family, so I took it one day at
a time.”

On April 16, the brave mum underwent a successful triple bypass.

“I was home after a week, which was crazy considering they’d cracked my chest open!” she laughs.

While there was no detection of a heart condition, there is a name for what Cynthia went through.

“It’s called spontaneous coronary artery dissection. My heart is permanently damaged, but it is recovering as well as it can,” she admits.

She says she will be forever in awe of the staff at Waikato Hospital who cared for her so well in a time that was incredibly scary. But this event has also changed her life for the better.

Cynthia hasn’t returned to work, deciding with her husband Graeme (41) that while the children are young, she wants to stay home and spend as much time with them as possible.

“When I get sick, I do slow down maybe more than other people do and I get tired quite easily, but other than that everything is pretty much back to normal,” she tells.

“My husband said to me the other day, ‘When you were in hospital, we weren’t thinking we wished we had worked harder to pay the mortgage off. We were thinking we need more family time.’

“It’s about the people around you. It’s really easy in life to get caught up in getting your mortgage paid off and getting through it as opposed to enjoying the journey.

“The other thing I was really amazed by is how our little community in Cambridge all chipped in. It’s amazing how in times of trial it galvanizes people. It was one of the most awful times of our lives, but we’ve never had so much love around us. I even got flowers from our accountant!” she laughs.

Head to the Heart Foundation’s website heartfoundation.org.nz/journeys to see their new feature Journeys, an online support hub where people can share their heart-related stories.

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