Forty-four-year-old, life-long Nevada resident Kristen Vinzant never thought about having a heart attack, let alone surviving one.

Now, as American Heart Month brings heart health issues to the forefront, Vinzant shared with the Journal her remarkable story. She’s a heart failure/heart attack survivor.

This 1991 graduate of Nevada High School, daughter of Richard and Amy Vinzant of Nevada, won’t soon forget the fall of 2017, when on Oct. 13 (a Friday the 13th, oddly enough) her oldest child, Shelby Mitchell, rushed her to the hospital.

“I had been sick for a good month before that,” Vinzant recalled. “I hadn’t been feeling well. I had anxiety, swelling, chest pain … I brushed it all off. Then I ended up completely in bed from fluid build-up, shortness of breath and being physically and mentally exhausted.” She didn’t go to the doctor. In fact, she admitted, “I really couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to the doctor.”

She knew something wasn’t right, “but I didn’t know to what extent.”

Then Friday the 13th of October rolled around and at about 5 in the morning, she woke up; something had come over her. “I had maybe a thought that if I didn’t get to the hospital, I wasn’t going to be around for my kids or my new grandbaby (born the next month in November). I felt that bad; I was scared. I felt like I was having a big anxiety attack, and I couldn’t breathe. I was freaking out.”

She said the doctor in the emergency room took one look at her and told her she was in heart failure. “My blood pressure was 248 over 196. I knew I had high blood pressure, but I’d always pushed it aside.” She had never taken any medications for blood pressure either.

“The doctor said I was lucky to be alive.” And when further testing showed that she had also suffered a heart attack, she knew he was right.

Some of the time that she spent in the hospital is fuzzy in her memory. She knows they performed an EKG, a chest x-ray, a CAT scan for blood clots and that they hooked her up right away to a nitro drip. They also gave her oral blood pressure pills and Lasix. She was put in the ICU (intensive care unit), where she would remain for three days, and from there she was put on the telemetry floor for another four to five days.

Mitchell has had a couple ultrasounds of her heart to monitor her blood flow. She will have another ultrasound at one of her followup appointments later this month.

“They also found out (while she was hospitalized) that I was anemic, which could have been another issue (with her overall health),” she said. She was given two units of blood while in the hospital, giving her a new appreciation for blood donors.

To say that the past three months have been life-changing for Vinzant would be an understatement. She’s made significant changes, the most noticeable of which is losing 80 pounds.

“The number-one thing I’ve done is with my diet,” she said. “I’ve gone to low — actually low to no — sodium. I’m eating lots of fruits and vegetables. I rarely eat fast food, and I’m drinking lots of water.” She’s also gone from taking no pills a day to taking nine pills every day. Among those are two for water retention issues, three for blood pressure, one for iron and one for heartburn.

Doctor Saurabh Aggarwal, MD, a cardiologist who has been seeing patients at Story Medical in Nevada this year, puts diet as one of the two main things that anyone can do right now to reduce their risk of heart disease or heart attack. “Eat a healthy, balanced diet, low in salt,” Aggarwal said. The other thing everyone can do, he said, is get “daily exercise for at least 30 minutes.”

Aggarwal also said that if a person has one of the main risk factors — hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and/or obesity — “aggressive risk factor control” is very important.

While males over the age of 65 are the highest percentage of heart attack victims, Aggarwal said it is not uncommon to see women and younger people dealing with heart problems and/or suffering a heart attack. Aggarwal estimates about a third of the patients he sees are women.

The signs that are most often presented when someone is in congestive heart failure or going to have a heart attack, he said, include: fatigue, decreased capacity for performing daily chores, and difficult or labored breathing upon exertion.

Vinzant said she will keep a good eye on all the warning signs now, especially after learning that there has been a history of heart disease and heart attack among some females in her family. For one thing, she now weighs herself every day, to be sure she’s not gained anything, which could possibly be water retention.

She’s also now giving good advice to her four children, three of whom — Shelby, MadaLinn and Ross Mitchell —are grown and living in Nevada, and the fourth, Paiten, who is a high school junior at Nevada. “I told my kids, go to the doctor and take medications if they’re prescribed,” because she never wants to see them suffer like she did, and she feels so badly that she could have been gone from them way too soon.

“I owe a lot to my kids, because if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have pulled through. My kids, every day, were right there by my side,” she said. She also realizes if the worst had happened, she wouldn’t have seen Shelby’s first child, a baby boy born Nov. 17.

Too many times, Vinzant agrees, especially for women, “life is full of stress, it’s full of chaos … you concentrate on your kids more than on yourself. You just don’t think to take care of yourself, because nothing’s going to happen to you.”

But it can happen. Vinzant is lucky to be “living” proof of that. As she looks to the future, she admits that she still is trying to figure everything out. “With such a life-changing event like that, it’s almost like I lost who I was and am just trying to find myself… I’m going to strive to be a much better person and take things one day at a time.”