A year ago from today, April 7, 2011, I was in the hospital. My heart went into spontaneous aortic dissection. I thought it was the end of my life. Little did I know that it was just the beginning… A Heart’s Beginning.

My life flashed before. From my childhood years to my middle school, from graduation to marriage, from having kids to up to this day.

A lot of accomplishments… What I thought were regrets was actually the best decision I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t be the strong, successful woman I feel like today. I’m not filthy rich but I am overflowing with blessings. I have a great and absolutely wonderful husband, four beautiful kids, a loving mother and father, undoubtedly #1 in my book brother and sister, two energetic and loyal companions, a “to-die-for” relatives, an extended family of Christ, and a great powerful merciful undeniable God. What more can I ask for?

I asked for “More time.” About 7 months before my heart went into dissection, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Myella. Her name is a combination of her brothers’ and sister’s name. The “M” starts from her sister, Meishelle; the “el” is from her eldest brother, Ermel; and the “ah” is from her other brother, Elijah… Thus, her name is Myella. My husband and I wanted to give each our children a unique name. Her, being our fourth, and combining all the kids’ names together made sense… She made everything complete. And that’s what her name means to me… complete. My husband’s friend, DJ, translated her name from the Hebrew bible, and it means “My Little Angel.” In Spanish, her name means, “She’s Mine.” My little girl was blessed with a name that complimented her and gave her meaning to a life God gave.

We stayed three days in the hospital. We had visitors left and right and was hard to rest, so I looked forward to going home with Myella in my arms and the rest of the family. It was Monday, August 27, and the sun was bright and the weather was warm. It was one of the warmest seasons in the year and it was going to get hotter. Thank God we had an air conditioner in our bedroom to keep us cool. With the other kids, I had stayed downstairs and slept in the living room, but this time, I rested upstairs in the comfort of my bedroom.

Everything was in the room. The bassinet that Nina gave from Eiley, the plastic drawers were arranged with all of baby’s clothes and diapers neatly folded inside. It was amazing how hubby and my mom was able to sort and prepare everything before we came home.

Myella was due on September 3rd, but I started to have contractions early. We went into Sharp Mary Birch’s birthing unit for an assessment. I was scheduled for a c-section the following week, but the peds doctor at Sharp Mary Birch ok’d to deliver the baby a week early. So on August 24 @ 4:00 in the morning, my baby girl took her first breath of life. The first thing I said was, “She’s so beautiful.” She was so white… Lighter than hubby. I couldn’t believe this creation was ours.

Hubby had to find a stroller, a car seat, diapers, newborn clothes, a pacifier, and bottles during our stay in the hospital. And he did a great job… I think he loved shopping for baby! He got a really cute pink flower car seat stroller set from Walmart, pastel binkies, and very girlie baby bottles. Myella is definitely going to be a daddy’s girl. He already has Meishelle, here’s a another.

So baby girl and I are home and everyone’s trying to adjust with the new addition. The kids would come into the room and play puppets singing, “Peanut Butter Jelly Time.” I think she was more annoyed than happy to see them, but the kids love her! It was so much fun watching them all play. Ermel was curious of his little sister and was always asking questions, Elijah was very protective, and Meishelle wanted to help as often as she could.

Having four children is a blessing. I didn’t expect or planned on having more than two, but who am I to question God? It would be a miracle if I get pregnant again, though. As much as I love the man upstairs, I did get a tubiligation.

There are risks to getting the tubes’ tied. As much as I preferred for hubby to get “fixed” instead of me, we figured that since I’m already getting a c-section, just get it done and over with. So I signed the papers and stayed in prayer for the operation.

The operation was successful of course, but after a few days of being discharged from the hospital, I noticed that my legs were swelling and it started to get painful. I figured I was just retaining water, which is normal after most pregnancies. My Auntie Agnes came to visit later in the day and advised me to get checked if it persists. I took a picture of my own feet for the fun of it, because it looked like Crispy Pata… “Pig Feet.” They were hugely swollen.

Later on in the day, it started to get more painful, to the point where I couldn’t walk straight without saying, “ouch.” So I call Sharp Urgent Care and they told me that since it’s still less than a week after delivery, to go back to Sharp Mary Birch for a postpartum checkup. It was late at night and both the kids and my parents are sleeping. Hubby and I decided to take baby girl with us, because I was breast feeding and we had no milk at home. Myella was a trooper. She slept most of the time. At the hospital, the nurse checked me in and took my vitals. Everything seemed normal. My heart rhythm was normal, my breathing and my oxygen was all good. They didn’t take an EKG, labs, or anything else. The doctor didn’t even come in to see me, it was just the nurse. I ended up getting discharged with a diagnoses of water retention with an understanding that every pregnancy is different. They advised me to rest and keep my feet up, and drink plenty of water.

The following morning, my wonderfully talented mom cooks up a delicious breakfast from Nanay’s kitchen. I skip the chicken and rice, but I do eat the eggs, soup, and bread with butter. Of course, I had to have a sip of my coffee… Two scoops of cream, and two sugars please.

My mom was watching the kids while I ate breakfast and freshened up for the morning. She took Myella to her bedroom, which is just across my room, with the other two little ones, Meishelle and Elijah. I started in the bathroom and was “busy” on the throne. At the same time, the phone rings and my eldest son, Ermel, comes from the garage to the bathroom to hand me the yellow garage phone. It was a phone call from a creditor and wanted some information. As I was listening, I started to feel short of breath. Perhaps, cause I was using the toilet and got interrupted so now I can’t go. So I stop what I’m doing and tell the caller that I’d call them back with the information. I wash up and head toward the corner of my room to find some paperwork for the caller. As I stretched my left arm up, my muscles tightened. I sat down and took a breath because I started to hurt. Then, my ears started to buzz and my left arm up to my head started to feel numb. My vision went blurry and my entire body felt like it was getting squeezed like a really bad muscle spasm that kept going and going and going. I’m thinking, “This is crazy! What’s going on?” Then, I realized I was grabbing my left arm and thought, “Oh, $@(:! Am I having what I think I’m having?” So as a precaution, I went down on my knees, laid my head on the bed and began to dial 911. As the phone rang, I prayed to God, “Lord, if this is it, pleaes take the pain away. If it’s not, then please give me the strength to overcome it.”

The 911 dispatcher picks up and says, “911, is this an Emergency?” I was scared to say anything, because I’m thinking, “This better not be just a freakin’ muscle spasm.”

So I say. “Yes, I can’t breathe. Can you please send someone over for help?” The dispatcher starts asking me questions and I’m trying to answer them to the best that I can. I give her my name, address, history, and symptoms. She asks if there was anyone else around and I tell her my mom is but I don’t have the strength to yell out, she’s in the other room with the babies and can’t hear me. I can hear them all laughing and giggling – I closed my eyes and their little voices comforted me. I could feel myself getting short of breath and so numb. I could hear the dispatcher talking and telling me the ambulance is on their way.

What seemed like forever was probably less than 10 minutes when the doorbell rang. I heard the kids run down to answer the door, and my mom following after with the baby in her arms. I heard one of the EMTs ask if someone called 911. My mom says, “No.”

Then, I hear a lady ask, “Where’s your daughter?” My mom says, “She’s upstairs.” They tell her to open the door. The sounds of heavy boots and deep voices fill the air.

A woman approaches me and sees me on my knees. She and another EMT helps me get up to lay on my bed. While they check my blood pressure and put EKG leads on me, I can hear the tremble in my mom’s voice as she tries to call my husband and tell him to come home.

Hubby was on his way to bring his mom some flowers at work.
It was, after all, her birthday, and a child should always acknowledge their mother on the day of her birthday.

In the meantime, the EMTs were having a hard time confirming the results of the EKG readings, which I heard the word, “elevated.” I work in a hospital, so to me, that spelled out “heart attack.” I threw up a few times and heard the kids nearby say, “Eww! That’s nasty.” Amidst all that was happening, they made me laugh. I received no meds, yet (… No aspirin, no morphine… Nada) At least they threw some oxygen on me. As I was carried down the stairs of my house in a chair like gurny, the pain was so intense I couldn’t really feel anymore. I felt a knuckle rub against my chest, but it didn’t hurt. I was trying to stay awake and be focussed, but I could feel myself getting weak. I remember entering the ambulance with a female EMT and as she was giving report to the other EMTs for the hospital to take, she held my hand and assured me that everything is going to be okay. I trusted her and tried to pull a smile. I didn’t feel them inserting lines and cutting my clothes.

I was wheeled into the emergency room at Sharp Medical Center Hospital off Telegraph Road. As soon as I was in a room, everyone was there – a doctor, nurses, Respiratory therapists. I knew what to expect, I just didn’t want to feel any of it. I heard the words “elevated” again, but after another EKG in the ER, “elevated” became “elevating.” That means my heart attack got worse. I can tell they were all in shock that I was having a heart attack, because I was just thirty, had a baby, and look healthy.

I was finally given some morphine and nitro to delay any further damages to the heart. Within 30 minutes of admittance into the ER, I was rolled into the Cath Lab where an angiogram was done. This is an invasive procedure where the doctor puts a mini fibroid like camera into the femoral artery and carefully visualizes the walls of the artery up to the heart. The doctor saw a 70% blockage to the right circumflex of the heart. I didn’t know what this was until after hospitalization. Apparently, it was important to put in some metal stents (coated with a special medicine to prevent clots) in the circumflex artery of the heart. The doctor put in two stents to help keep the walls of the artery from collapsing. The nurses and the other people in the Cath lab were wonderful. Their voices were calm and comforting and guided me through the procedure smoothly.

The sedation was a big help too. I have a high pain tolerance so to feel even a little bit of pain even after the sedation means that it would’ve hurt a lot more for an average person with moderate pain tolerance. I’m not sure how long I slept afterwards, but I was then transferred to their cardiac unit. I wasn’t allowed to move my right leg because of the procedure. Doing so would form a hematoma (an ulcer like blood clot, which would require additional meds and procedure to treat.) I know I work in a hospital but taking medicine and being a patient was not my favorite thing to do. Not was not bring able to get out of bed to pee. I had to use a bed pan and then wait for my nurse to wipe me, put powder, and remove the darn thing. It was a lot of work. I feel for the bed-ridden patients. I was determined to get out of bed soon.

A day after my stay in the ICU, I was transferred to the telemetry unit. A holster monitor was placed on me and my room was made private. The charge nurse had found out that I worked in the hospital, and in addition was young, just had a baby, and a heart attack. I think they felt sorry for me and wanted me to feel comfortable. I truly appreciated that. That same evening of being transferred, I got a high temperature. My medical history included my allergies to medicine and having seizures, so when my temperature kept rising, my nurses didn’t know what to do. They didn’t want my temperature to go any higher than 102 degrees, which may cause a headache, and trigger a seizure. The MD did not want me to take Motrin or Ibuprofen, because it was a contraindication to the current meds I was taking that prevented clots. The rest of the evening was torcher!

My mom was with me, but had to go home. My friend, Carmina “Nina,” came right on time to take over. I was getting some rest when the CNA came in to take my vitals. My temperature was rising and I started to feel super warm and flush. I was awaken and saw Nina. She asked me if I was okay, and I said, “Yes.” I was super sleepy though, so tired I was. A few minutes later, my nurse is waking me up and asking me all these questions. A few more nurses come and tell me that they need to keep my temperature down. So what do they do? They wipe me down with a wash cloth dipped and drenched in… ICE, COLD water! The ice was still ICE!!!!! Omigosh! Nina tried to calm me down and no one was listening… I told Nina to please call Ermer, my husband.

Ermer walked in and saw what they were doing and he saw the tears in my eyes. As soon as he came close to me, I held him, burrowed my face into his arms and cried. I told him, “I can’t do this. They’re not supposed to stress me like this. It’s bad for the muscles and bad for the heart.” I don’t know if that made any sense to him, but it was only a day after getting stents and making the heart strain like that can reverse the healing process of the stents. At least that’s what was processing in my head. Ermer told them, ” My wife has a pretty high pain tolerance, and this is really painful to her. Is there any other way to lower her temperature?” He then goes on and tells them what he does at home for me when I’m sick, so they stopped and had him take over my care. He whispered and told me to try and cooperate. So what did I do? Well, every time the nurses came in, I would stay calm, show them that the cold towels and ice bags are still where they left them. When the nurse leaves, I would grab an extra pillow and create a boundary between the ice bags and me. It was still cold, but not ice cold. Also, Ermer would cover my shoulders and my feet. Everything else was exposed. Aargh! I had a hard working, very nice, but also strict nurse who I will never forget… Juliet. This was all her idea… Torcher!

I started to feel better the following morning. My temperature was down and my vitals were stable. My hospital discharge was held off for another day. I was still achy throughout my body, though. Perhaps from all my muscles contracting during the heart attack and then again from the “ice-attack.” I took things slowly. I was even finally allowed to get out of bed to use the bathroom. I did notice that with every step I was getting short of breath and my chest ached. I was told to rest and sit if I felt dizzy or faint. So for the rest of the day, I either slept, sat, ate, or drink. It was like a vacation I’ve always wanted.

I was ready to go home, though. I missed my kids especially my new baby. It wasn’t even one week yet when all this craziness happened. I was eager to bond with her again. I had to stop breast feeding, because of the medications I was put on, so I was little sad that we would lose that motherly bond. On the fifth day of being in the hospital, the nurse practitioner overseeing my case, Lisa, came to visit and see how I was doing. I got to meet with Dr. Leighty, too, to go over my care plan at home. Yes, they were ready to send me home. When they asked if I had any questions, I asked them about the aches on my chest. I told them I still feel sore and that there’s some pressure on my chest. The doctor told me that after a heart attack the muscles contract and can be the result of all that happened over the weekend, “… But Just in case, let’s take another EKG and some blood work before we send you home.” I agreed. Besides, I actually liked hospital food, so why not stay for lunch as well?

The hope of going home looked promising. The lab and EKG technicians got the picture and samples they needed, so all we had to do was wait for the results. In the meantime, Ermer decides to go home and update everyone on the good news, “Mommy’s coming home.” I stayed rested in my little private room for his return. The results did come back while he was still gone. Everything looked normal, “Yay!” That meant I get to go home.

Hubby came back to the hospital as soon as he heard that everything was okay with the lab results. He got my clothes, shoes, and most importantly, he brought me a sweet treat… Elijah. Elijah was only 2 1/2 years old and he is the sweetest little munchkin ever! He has a “killer” smile that captures my heart and he’s just full of sweetness. He was excited to come and pick up mommy.

When Elijah saw me, he hugged me right away, but Daddy, of course, had to tell him to be slightly gentle. We had to explain to him that mommy had a little boo-boo and that she can’t carry him. I carried him ALL THE TIME! So he’s used to being held and kissed with mommy’s love.

It was mid afternoon and the doctors came by to confirm that I was indeed going home by the end of shift. They just needed to complete the discharge papers first. I was in no rush. I was just happy to finally be going home. Since it was going to a few more hours, my lunch came and so I enjoyed my healthy hospital food. I don’t quite remember what it was. Actually, I don’t quite remember what happened the rest of the day.

When my food came, I sat towards the edge of my bed, my food was on my table, I started to pick up my utensils and take off the cover of my food. I then turned towards my husband and little boy and asked, “Do you guys want some?” Then I turned back towards my food and something felt funny? I felt tired all of a sudden and things got blurry. I took one deep breath and….

… It was dark and I heard voices all around me. I felt so relaxed and so at peace, but I kept hearing voices and I could’t make out what the noise was all about. I remember seeing a bright light. I look to my left and I look to my right… darkness… but straight in front of me was this little bright light. With all the voices all around me, I didn’t want to be in the dark, so I started to head towards this little bright light. I was like, “Hmmm? What’s that?”

All of a sudden, I hear someone say, “Wake up.” Softly, but loud enough that it was the clearest thing I heard from all the other voices that surrounded me. It was so clear, so soft, neither a man or a woman’s voice, but a comforting voice that neither begged or cried or angrily said, but rather commanded me with assurance to, “wake up.”

And in my heart, I remember saying, “Okay.” Then I felt this surge pass through me with a tug here and a tug there and then my chest lifted with such relief I remember saying to myself, “Mmmm… that feels good.” Then somewhere in between, I wondered what was happening. I thought I was dreaming and heard my friend’s voice. She said, “Michelle, it’s Pamela. You’re going to be just fine.” I remember knodding my head, “okay,” and then trying to smile. I was a little confused, but I knew something happened. I remember my sister looking over me and I was trying to do sign language. I also remembered suggesting for someone to buy one of those notepad thingies that I could press buttons on like a typewriter so that I can communicate with them. I remember kisses on my forehead and sweet “I love you’s” in my ears.

So what did happened?

Let’s just say this… if I had stepped out of that hospital, my grave would have something like this:

Born: January 9th, 1980 – Died: September 7th, 2010.

I could not believe it. My husband said that he and my little boy saw me fall to my face. As I fell, I hit my head on the table, the stand of the table, and then the floor. My face slammed and I didn’t move. My husband immediately yelled for help and the hospital called overhead a “Cold Blue.”

I CODED! That means, my heart was in distress – in this case, it went into afib. My husband told me that he stood nearby and saw doctors and nurses and therapists run into my room with a crash cart. He heard them yell, “clear!!!” twice. Which meant I was defibrilated twice and then they did chest compressions on me and I was eventually intubated and put on life support.

Besides my doctors and nurses who cared for me during my stay, there was a respiratory therpist there that helped save my life. His name was Bernie. It was one of my husband’s closest friends. They saw eachother and when Bernie asked what my husband was doing there, he told said, “That’s Michelle inside there.” Bernie’s reactions was obviously, “Oh, $@*! Are you serious?” He went inside to help, but as soon as he saw me and knew who I was, his supervisor took over and assisted with the code blue.

Could you imagine seeing yourself save a friend who’s life could possibly depend on you? I can’t. I have not, yet, personally cared for a patient who I personally knew. I don’t know if I could do it. Would I be emotionally attached? I dunno.

When I found out Bernie was there, he then told me that Pamela (my friend and co-worker from UCSD), had taken care of me on the vent the rest of the evening. So I did hear her voice. She was there. I asked Bernie to say ‘thank you’ to her.

Hubby was telling me all these unbelievable things from the moment I fell, to CPR, to intubation, and then to being drugged on Propofol (a.k.a. the “Michael Jackson” drug). He even told me how he described me to the staff – where I work, what I like, how many kids I have. My hubby… he is the greatest!

He didn’t know what to tell my mom. He called Nanay, my mom, and instead of saying, “We’re on our way home.” He says, “Nanay, something happened to Michelle.” From there, he describes to her what had happened, what’s going to happend, and what could happen.

My doctor had told them that I had a 50/50 percent chance of survival. They had to run more tests and assessments. In the meantime, family and friends (including my pastor and his wife), came to the ICU for prayer and comfort. Especially comfort to my mom. They told me how torn she was and how worried and just miserable she was feeling. She literally would sit in front of the ICU and waited and waited and waited until she got to see me.

I can’t, and hope not to, ever know how my mom felt at that time. But I can imagine, as a mother, how it would feel like if it was my daughter (Meishelle or Myella) was in that bed with only a 50% chance of survival. My heart would be torn and I would beg my GOD to take me instead. My mom said things to my husband I don’t think realized hurt him as much as it would hurt me when I found out. She kept asking him, “Why didn’t you catch her? Where were you? What were you doing?” My husband didn’t know what to say… what could he say? He was there, he wasn’t worried, and Elijah was with him when it happened. My husband watched as his world churned with confusion and found the answer to his prayer; he “Let go and Let God” take control. That’s all my husband could do. He’s not a doctor, he’s not a nurse, and most especially, he was not God, but he is a faithful man who knows that there’s power in prayer.

Dr. Moussavian, my cardiologist, did another angiogram on me, and inserted two more stents into the circumflex artery of my heart. Apparently, the back end of the artery had collapsed and that is probably why I started to get a fever a few days before as well as the uncomfortable pressure on my chest. My doctors (ALL Of them!), including Dr. Leahy, and my Nurse Practitioner, Lisa, kept me in the hospital for about 15 days overall… They were still so shocked and scared to have almost sent me and just a couple of hours before I could have stepped out of the double doors of the hospital, I could have coded and died.

I was on both pregnancy and medical disability for the full four months after my pregnancy. I got to enjoy the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years) with my baby girl. In between, I had to do frequent lab work and check ups to make sure that my blood wasn’t thickening and that my heart was stable… After all, I only had a 30% ejection fraction. If I were to have another heart attack, it would be last breath…