Heart of the matter

11 May 2012

Written by: Olivia Wicik

Sunday 6 May to Saturday 12 May is Heart Week 2012. During this time the Heart Foundation will be urging Australians to learn the signs of a heart attack, and there is no cause in the world that is more important to me. This may sound unconventional to you, as I am a 21 year old university student. However, I could easily have become the victim of a heart attack, until last January, when I underwent a seven hour open-heart surgery.

From that point on, I have made it my personal mission to bring awareness about the risks and warning signs of heart disease to as many people as possible. The heart is a muscle you simply can not live without, and the healthier you keep it, the better chance you have of living a long and healthy life. Sometimes it can be hard to make the proper eating and exercise choices, but these choices are crucial to being heart healthy.

In 2009 heart attacks claimed 28 lives a day in Australia alone. The best way to avoid a heart attack, is living a healthy lifestyle and learning about the warning signs. I know from personal experience, that the warning signs of heart disease can be easily confused as something else if you aren’t aware of them. Feelings of fatigue and dizziness may seem normal at times, but in many cases such symptoms are the beginning of a heart attack. In 2010, a survey conducted by the Heart Foundation found that only one in six people would call an ambulance when feeling chest discomfort or dizziness. This has resulted in more than 50% of deaths due to heart attack occurring outside of hospitals. It is a scary statistic. In this day and age, many people are obsessed with being on the go and not slowing down to listen to their bodies, and this can prove deadly.

Within the past few years, heart disease awareness has become a more common topic of conversation.  Although the rate of fatalities has recently fallen, with the number of heart attack deaths dropping 37% between 1997 and 2009, there is still a long way to go. Heart disease can happen to anyone, and this is something we all need to understand.

If you feel any of symptoms that I have described above and go to a doctor, only to be told you are fine, it is not wrong to second guess them. If I had done so, perhaps I would have found out that I was suffering from heart disease before my heart was enlarged to the size of two ‘normal’ hearts. I got lucky, because a scar down my chest and a stay at hospital is a small price to pay for a long and healthy life.  Sadly, many people don’t get so lucky and become yet another statistic.

Heart attacks don’t only effect the elderly and unhealthy. Heart disease doesn’t discriminate. Indeed, there are many recorded deaths from cardiac arrest while on the sports field. In April, Italian footballer Piermario Morosini died after suffering a cardiac arrest during a match between Pescara and Livorno. In March, English footballer Fabrice Muamba also suffered a cardiac arrest during a game, though thankfully he was to survive. Recently, the Australian Olympic Committee has instituted advanced heart checks for many of their Olympic bound athletes. Often times, an athletes heart is more enlarged than a normal person’s heart and it is up to these doctors to determine what a ‘normal’ athlete heart should look like.

Cardiac disease is something that can affect anyone, of any age, size or race. I never thought I’d be one of those people, yet here I am. This week, during Australian Heart Week, make it your mission to learn about heart disease. Find out more about the warning signs, see a cardiologist, choose a healthier lunch, or go for a run. Tell a friend. You could save someone’s life, or maybe even your own.

Olivia Wicik is an international student from Long Island University in New York and studying journalism at La Trobe University. She is the editor of upstart and a heart disease survivor.