My Mother’s Heart Attack Saved Her Life
By: Yonsenia White
Ironic as it may seem, a heart attack can truly save a person’s life. Heart disease is one of several illnesses in my mother’s lineage and is the number one killer of women (Minority Women’s Health: Heart Disease, 2010). Formerly described as a “man’s disease”, it has been referred to as a “silent killer” because in women, generally there are no symptoms or noticeable pain, making the cardiac event more deadly (Heart Disease and Black Women: The Silent Killer that Speaks Volumes, 2012) and current research shows that heart attack symptoms differ in men and women (Heart attack symptoms vary by gender, 2012). Heart disease is also problematic for African-American women. We suffer at rates twice as high as white women, and the disparity is mainly due to increased rates of obesity, cholesterol levels, diabetes, less access to proper healthcare, and therefore, decreased knowledge of our elevated risks (Heart Disease and Black Women: The Silent Killer that Speaks Volumes, 2012).
In 2003, these factors alone set the stage for my mother’s heart attack, unbeknownst to her and the rest of my family.
My mother is a strong woman who is fiercely loyal, hardworking, smart, and assertive. She is a loving mother, grandmother, coworker, and friend. I have only seen her cry twice in my life and I attest this to her strength of character, courageous spirit, and ability to overcome life’s many obstacles. She grew up in poverty and is the youngest of twelve children. In her lifetime, she has consistently dealt with sexism, racism, segregation, and an unhappy marriage. For most of her life, my mother has been a housekeeper working for private residences and then at nursing homes. At age 60, she was responsible for cleaning floors with at least twenty rooms, often climbing ladders, changing curtains, mopping floors, and removing trash. If housekeeping were short staffed, she would have to clean those floors along with her own.
While at work one day, my mother had not been feeling well during her shift, but finished her cleaning duties and went home. She still didn’t feel well, so she asked my brother to take her to the hospital. The doctor said that she had apparently been having a heart attack all day, and if she had not come to the hospital when she did, she would have died. She received a diagnosis of congestive heart failure and doctors urged her to lose the three hundred fifty pounds she had been carrying on her body for years that placed a lot of stress on her heart.
Over the next few months, my mother’s treatment plan included drug therapy, a strictly low sodium diet, and exercise. She struggled to lose weight, and was advised to undergo the gastro-intestinal surgery for immediate and long lasting weight loss results. Amazingly, she lost over 200 pounds, and went from size 34 to a size14 in a year. She gained her life back and learned how to best manage her chronic heart-related condition, which in turn, tremendously improved her quality of life. She started working out at the gym, eating right, and now at 70, is retiring for the second time from her housekeeping job, as an award-winning employee of almost three decades. She looks forward to filling her remaining years with love, laughter, travel, family, and her five grandchildren.
We almost lost my mother that day, but the heart attack that saved her life actually gave her more of it. Even though congestive heart failure is a chronic illness, she remains very active and doesn’t allow this condition slow her down nor keep her from living her best life yet.
(2012, February 22). Heart attack symptoms vary by gender. Retrieved from
Heart Disease and Black Women: The Silent Killer that Speaks Volumes.
(2012). Retrieved from http://www.blackwomenshealth.org/issues-and-resources/
(2010, May 18). Minority Women’s Health: Heart Disease. Retrieved from