At the age of 15, she learned that heart disease was in her genes. At the age of thirty-seven, this mother absorbed it.

Heart and open heart disease survivor Katie Mugenberg. (Photo courtesy of Katie Mugenberg)

When a medical technician was demonstrating to a high school class how to check blood pressure, he asked a volunteer to get 15-year-old Katie Mugenberg’s approval.

The man took the reading, and then said to her, “Stop, your blood pressure is kind of high. We’ll need to tell your parents.”

A visit to the doctor confirmed that she had high blood pressure, also known as high blood pressure. A cardiologist said it was likely hereditary.

Katie’s paternal grandfather died of a severe heart attack at the age of 38. His uncle had his first heart attack at the age of 25; He later died of a heart attack at the age of 52.

Katie was put on medication and asked to see her primary care physician and cardiologist annually. These are all the tips you remember.

In her late teens, Katie began experiencing what she thought were severe anxiety attacks. She often felt physically tense, with burning in her shoulders and neck and a sense of impending doom.

In her twenties and early thirties, she often had what appeared to be panic attacks. This resulted in dozens of trips to the emergency room. Each time, the diagnosis was always the same: anxiety.

As a seemingly healthy young woman, Katie felt that doctors were not taking her symptoms seriously. Along the way, I became a licensed practical nurse and worked in a hospital.

“I knew something wasn’t right for me,” she said. “I felt like they were thinking, ‘Here she goes again. “

In December 2019, Katie, then 37 and living in Suffolk, Virginia, was feeling particularly tired and losing weight.

She had stopped working several years ago to raise a family. She had two children and helped raise two more children from her second husband, Matthew Mugenberg.

That winter, she was dieting to shed a few pounds, but the scale didn’t budge. She was also suffering from what she thought was indigestion, although the antacids didn’t provide any relief.

If she is especially stressed, her chest hurts. The pain subsided when I relaxed. For several months, she had escalating episodes of chest pain and nausea, but it always went away.

“I just had a stress test the year before, and it was fine,” her primary care doctor told her. “I think you just suffer from anxiety and indigestion.”

Katie wasn’t convinced, but she also wanted to believe that nothing was worse.

One day in March 2020, she woke up feeling more pressure on her heart than ever before. It was as if a muscle was convulsing. I felt nauseous again and went to the cardiologist’s office.

Two minutes after the treadmill stress test, the doctor stopped him.

“Your main artery is blocked and you have to go to the hospital now,” he told her. He said she wasn’t having a heart attack, but that she likely had one on her way.

At the hospital, a cardiologist told Katie that one of her heart’s arteries was 99% blocked and that the blockage was too narrow for a stent to be inserted. She needed emergency open heart surgery.

“I can’t do that,” she told the doctor.

He told her, “You won’t succeed if you don’t.”

Matthew arrives to find Katie wracked with fear. I asked him with tears to take care of the children.

“Everything will be fine,” he told her. Although now two years later, he admits, “In the back of my mind, I couldn’t believe it.”

Katie Mugenberg (left) with her husband Matthew.  (Photo courtesy of Katie Mugenberg)
Katie Mugenberg (left) with her husband Matthew. (Photo courtesy of Katie Mugenberg)

Katie underwent surgery to restore blood flow to her heart. When she woke up the next day, the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had gone into effect, meaning she could not receive visitors.

After a week in the hospital, Katie went home to recover.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” she said. “Not only was it painful, I had a lot of guilt for doing it myself and angry at the doctors. But as time passed and my body started to go back to normal – my new normal – my feelings shifted more towards gratitude.”

Katie said it took about half a year to feel herself again. Because of the pandemic, she could not do personal physical therapy. So she slowly increased her physical activities on her own.

She also radically changed her lifestyle. She quit smoking and cleaned up her diet, abstaining from red meat, snacks and soft drinks.

However, in part because of the heart medication she was taking, she gained 80 pounds within a year, straining her heart. Last March, she had gastric bypass surgery.

She has now lost most of the weight she gained, and her blood pressure is under control. She eats a strict diet of lean proteins and vegetables. For exercise, she walks, swims, and lifts weights.

“I no longer have panic attacks or that jittery feeling in my body,” she said. “That’s a great feeling.”

Katie Mugenberg with her family.  Clockwise from top left: Katie, Matthew, Joseph, Emma, ​​Griffin, and Matthew.  (Blair Davis Photography)
Katie Mugenberg with her family. Clockwise from top left: Katie, Matthew, Joseph, Emma, ​​Griffin, and Matthew. (Blair Davis Photography)

Perhaps it was no coincidence that fixing her heart resolved her anxiety. Doctors said the panic feelings were most likely caused by her body speeding up to compensate for her heart condition.

Matthew jokes that now he’s the one with anxiety.

“I don’t want her outside without me,” he said. “I always say, ‘Where are you going, what are you doing?’ Don’t lift this, don’t lift that. “The only thing he taught me is that there is not a single thing that is guaranteed in life.”

Katie hopes that women will especially remember taking care of themselves while taking care of others.

“Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women, and you don’t have to be old to get it,” she said. “I am definitely an example. Now I am grateful every day to be here.”

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association news story, please email [email protected].

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