Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I woke up to the sounds of Cameron giggling on April 13th, 2012.  Not knowing how I would feel on the one year anniversary of my SCAD and heart attack, I had taken the day off from work.  This was a smart decision.  The first stop of day was Cameron's one year check up.  Weighing in at 21 lbs and measuring 30 inches, he's in the 50th percentile for both.  He handled his four shots and one finger prick like a champ.  Like me, he loves being picked at and held quite still as the doctor checked his ears and eyes, listened to his heartbeat and lungs and wiggled his joints. 

I figured I would drop Cam off for an abbreviated stay at daycare while I wrapped up the final preparations for my Heartiversary happy hour.  The universe had different plans for me. Though I had about a zillion errands to run, I found myself driving to the grocery store.  I picked up four sandwiches, some sun chips and two thank you cards - and headed to St. Mary's.  It was raining, so I sat in my car and wrote out my message on the two cards - one for the ER and one for Cardiac Rehab.  I stopped in Rehab first - only one of my nurses was working and it was GREAT to see her.  We caught up for a bit and of course, I had to let her get back to her job. My next stop was the ER.  After sharing why I was there, I was greeted by three wonderful staff people I'd never met before.  And then the day took a rather unexpected turn. 

One of the coordinators looked up my procedure and found a list of all the staff that worked on me.  And then  - she took me back to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab so I could meet them.

Here's the thing - I walked back there and figured I'd have to introduce myself and tell them how goofy I was being, celebrating my Heartiversary in the same place I had my heart attack. They remembered me. And they remembered Brian and Cameron and how their waiting room was full of my worried family.  They shared with me how scared they were the day I came in and that no one had ever seen a case like mine before.  They told me about the lack of information available and how (as I'd heard from my doctor) that all the studies they could find related to SCAD were autopsies. One staff recalled how quick-to-act my doctor was, making an immediate decision to operate.  They asked to see pictures of Cameron and wanted to know how I was feeling.  Apparently - and this was a surprise to me - patients don't really come back to say "thank you". So they were floored that I was there and I was floored that they remembered me.  I hadn't seen their faces - I was out for most of my cath procedure.  Hearing their memories of the day.... well, it gives me goosebumps still.

I made one more stop at the Cardiac ICU - got totally creeped out when I walked past my room and had the chance to thank the nurse that cared for me while I was there (the one who let me sneak Cam in!) At the time of my stay, she had just returned to work and had a four month old at home and definitely understood the new-mama-away-from-her-baby-thing.  Finding the right words to thank her was too much, so I cried instead. 

It was this conversation that framed my mindset for Heartiversary.  Having the chance to spend a few hours celebrating this milestone with family and friends - this is a whole new level of gratitude.  I may have survived my heart attack because of the staff at St. Mary's, but I made it through this year with the support and love and friendship and patience of everyone in that room. As much as I wanted to celebrate my survival, I found myself celebrating all of these people who didn't let me lose it this year :) And I think above all, I'm grateful for Cameron - who was breech and didn't let me go into labor and who fills me with hope and excitement as I look to the future. Our future :)

And Thank YOU, reader, for being a part of this with me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to save a life (a two-for-one blog)

Earlier this year, I began to wonder how much longer I'd blog. I suppose I'd started to wonder at what point writing about life and babies and heart attacks would get "boring".  And I started to get paranoid that with the busy-ness of life, I'd run out of meaningful things to say and the time to say them well. I brought my worries up with Brian because he always presents the most logical thoughts for my consideration. 

Brian: Well, do you not want to blog anymore?
Rachel: No, I like it.
Brian: And you like writing too, right?
Rachel: Well, yes, I really do.
Brian: So then, what are you worrying about? If you still enjoy it, keep doing it.  And when it's time to stop, you will.

I realize - you can't stop writing if you don't know how the story (or the chapter) ends. And then, the most timely of things happened - twice.

Two acquaintances reached out to me.  The first suffers from heart disease and needed some advice about treatment.  I'll be the first to say that I'm not a doctor but I know more about the heart than most people my age (or in this country) do.  With my encouragement, she sought treatment.  Most women ignore the signs and symptoms of heart disease until it's much too late.  I'd like to think that sharing my experience made her decision easier to make.

The second acquaintance sent me this email:

Hey Rachel!
I hope you and little man (and your hubby) are good :) So, I just had to tell you something. I was doing my rotation in the cardiac critical care unit last month, and we had a young lady with kind of atypical chest pain. She had some chest trauma but to me there was something that just didn't sit right about her. For some reason, I thought of you and your spontaneous coronary artery dissection. So, I asked my attending about the possibility of SCAD in this patient.
Long story short (and Hippa details spared) she was in fact suffering a dissection. Im happy to report that she's doing well!
But I just had to tell you the story-- 


Whenever I speak about my experience, I always add this caveat that because I survived, I feel this duty to advocate for those who didn't.  To fight for understanding and the right treatment and to make the experience of heart disease REAL for the women in my life (and anyone who'll listen to me). Maybe the attending physician in this situation would have figured it out on their own....but most likely, they wouldn't have. And that woman, like the overwhelming majority of women with SCAD, would have died.  But.  There was someone who read my blog, knew what happened to me and asked the right questions at a critical time. And that woman, wherever she is, survived. 

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my heart attack, what I have come to refer to as Heartiversary.  The night before, I was sitting in my bed with mom, sobbing because I couldn't get Cameron to latch.  Patiently, she spent time with us, placing him just right on a mound of pillows and helping me cram myself into his little mouth.  It felt like torture.  And finally, after about an hour and forty-five minutes, he did it. He latched and nursed for 8 minutes. I thought that was my miracle.  I had no idea. Tonight, Brian came home from a trip and we sat on the couch watching hockey while Cameron cruised around the coffee table, laughing and playing with (harassing) Mowgli.

When I think of this last year and how much my life has changed, there is always this nagging feeling of what would have happened (or wouldn't have happened) had I not survived. It's morbid, I know, but the feeling has yet to dissipate.  What would Cameron's life be like? Or Brian's? Where would they be today? Would Brian have listened to the request I made to my mom when I was in the ER (Tell Brian to quit his job and move to Colorado!) Would the people who read this blog have been the people to write sad RIP posts on my facebook wall? Tooooo creepy.  And happily, that is not the way my story has played out.

All of this being said, tomorrow feels like the end of a chapter. And the beginning of another.  I think this story includes more of my son, more of me and mommyhood and life and heart health.  I think this story includes the yet-to-be baby girl Siebert, wherever or whenever she may be. So heartiversary doesn't bring an end to this story, just the beginning of the next phase.

When I was in college, a mentor shared a written reflection with me that she often used as a "climate check" for where she was in her life.  She called it "Gretchen in a nutshell".  Here's my most recent "Rachel in a nutshell":

I love spending summer Sundays with good weather, good food and good friends.
I love my son in a way I never knew I was capable.
I love endless possibility.

I feel satisfied when I can cross off every item on a list.
I feel satisfied if I'm sweating when I work out.
I feel satisfied after watering the plants.

I get worried about having another heart attack or stroke while I'm alone with Cameron.
I get worried that I don't listen enough.
I get worried that I'm not doing enough.

When I was little, I accidently swallowed an inch worm.
When I was little, I loved visiting my aunts in Texas and cried for days when I had to come home.
When I was little, I never learned to tie my shoe laces the right way.

I collect pressed pennies.
I collect scraps from magazines to make collages when I can't find the right words to write.
I collect pictures of my feet whenever I'm on vacation.

I can picture myself at age 7 with no front teeth.
I can picture myself at age 17 with short, spikey pixie hair.
I can picture myself at age 25 on the night I met Brian.

I will never forget the way I felt on my wedding day.
I will never forget how cute Cameron's milk-drunk faces were.
I will never forget how lucky I am.

It frustrates me when I see pregnant women.
It frustrates me that I can't always balance my reality as a working mom.
It frustrates me that you can only do so much.

I feel helpless because sometimes, there are no answers.
I feel helpless when I watch the news.
I feel helpless when I forget my umbrella.

I wish upon falling stars, pennies in fountains, eyelashes and 11:11 as much as I can.
I wish that science could move faster.
I wish my son all the happiness he can possibly stand.

I am proud of the dad my husband has become.
I am proud that I fundraise for a school that is changing St. Louis.
I am proud to share my heart story.

I hope we're making the right choices.
I hope to complete my family in the next few years.
I hope to be around for a long, long time.

I crave the old "normal" sometimes.
I crave good cheese, red meat, fried chicken and brownies like you wouldn't believe..
I crave naps.

I admire the honesty and strength of my friend Colleen.
I admire my mom's capacity for unconditional love.
I admire Katherine Leon and Laura Haywood-Cory who put SCAD "on the map".

I have been told I'm a "sleeper" hit.
I have been told to slow down.
I have been told that I am brave.

I do not have alot of motivation to organize my closet (it's intimidating!).
I do not have alot of downtime.
I do not have alot patience with my own mistakes and shortcomings.

I enjoy date nights with my husband.
I enjoy folding laundry.
I enjoy snuggling with my boys on Saturday mornings..

I think an ingenious invention is the moby wrap.
I think an ingenious invention is the Road ID bracelet.
I think an ingenious invention is the french press.

I find an outlet to life in blogging!
I find an outlet to life with good friends over a bottle of wine.
I find an outlet to life by taking vacations.

I am outraged when I see obese children.
I am outraged that women still make less than men in comparable jobs.
I am outraged by insurance companies and their insanely poor customer service .

I would not be who I am if I wasn't stubborn like my dad.
I would not be who I am without Anytown, Nerinx Hall, & Gannon Scholars.
I would not be who I am without the support of my friends and family.

I have debated writing a book.
I have debated being a foster parent.
I have debated if I'm in the right place.

I do not go long without checking email.
I do not starve myself. EVER.
I do not know what will happen next.

I look forward to knowing more than I do now.
I look forward to continuously falling in love with my husband.
I look forward…. Yes. I look forward.

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see." - John Burroughs

Monday, April 9, 2012

Somebody's Cruisin' (aka I do my own stunts)

In early April 2011, Cam was about to make his entrance into the world.  Here I am, at about 36 weeks (in Brian's shirt!)

And just a few short weeks later, my son was born.

Here he is, enjoying his boppy for the first time!

And all of the sudden, in the blink of an eye, I have a toddler.  I have to say, we made some pretty fun memories in this last year.

At mom's first Heart Walk (May 2011)

Learning to eat solid foods!
Having a dance party with bff Declan

Getting some tummy time....

Celebrating the 2011 World Series Champs!

Cuddly Lion for Halloween.......

Not scared of Santa at all!

Enjoying his first Blues Game with his dad who's going to teach him to play hockey one day!

First St. Patrick's Day parade

And finally, the 1st birthday party! Funny, someone already knows how to roll his eyes at mom..

I have to say, being the mom of a one year old is serious business.  On a regular basis, you are physically assaulted (fingers in your nose, fingers in your ears, fingers in your mouth and my favorite - fingers trying to pry out your eyeball).  You are parenting a constant explorer who has no fear (except for tickle me Elmo).  Cameron likes grabbing knives out of the dishwasher, sticking his hands in the toilet and putting wood chips in his mouth.  He tries to drink out of the dog's bowl and body slams Brian (usually landing in the worst spot!)  You can "babyproof" your house all you want - the things he couldn't reach last week become the low-hanging fruit this week.  He just recently figured out how to go down the stairs backwards and any chance he gets, he wants to practice.  I remember thinking those newborn days were hard - and they totally were.... but being a toddler mama is a whole new ball game.  It's a good thing they sleep through the night regularly by this age because there's NO WAY I could keep up with this kid if I wasn't getting my Zs.  Watching him grow and learn has been the most amazing thing to be a part of.... I definitely hope that time slows down a bit, but I can't wait to watch him through this next year and beyond :)

"Everyone knows that by far the happiest and universally enjoyable age of man is the first. What is there about babies which makes us hug and kiss and <snuggle> them, so that even an enemy would give them help at that age?" - Desiderius Erasmus