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Celebrate Heart Month with a heartfelt journey

Castle Pines resident Jenn Halvas (second from left) and her family are full of gratitude as we celebrate Heart Month.  She hopes that her own heart story will help someone else out there.  Although she has given up lifting heavy items and running, Jenn lives a full and active life with her three kids and husband thanks to modern medicine and a positive attitude.

 
By Elean Gersack; photos courtesy of the Halvas Family

I had the pleasure of meeting Castle Pines resident Jenn Halvas nearly two years ago as we forged a friendship while working together on the Rocky Heights Middle School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).  She is a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a volunteer, and so much more.  Jenn was courageous enough to talk with me about her own heart journey in hopes that she might be able to help someone else as we celebrate and embrace heart month.  Here is her story …

In August of 2013, Jenn was 41 years old and enjoying a family trip in Steamboat Springs.  She was relaxing on the couch after horseback riding and her chest started hurting on the left side.  It was really painful, and especially painful in her back.  She started to walk and wonder, “what is this pain?”  Jenn’s husband Rich noticed something was wrong.  The pain moved down into her arms.  Rich started checking her symptoms and asked if she was having a heart attack.  

Jenn was upset; she knew the heart attack symptoms but could not fathom the thought that she could be having one.  “I was probably in the best shape of my life,” said Jenn.

After a full work-up at the hospital located just one mile away, Jenn was sent home with some medication but no real answers.  The next day she continued to feel some lesser pain, but pain nonetheless, and wondered if it could have been a pulled muscle.  Once home, she got busy with typical mom duties as the one-week-to-school countdown began.  That night, she ran up the stairs to go to bed and the pain hit again – only worse with jaw pain, nausea, and sweating.

After a barrage of tests at Sky Ridge Medical Center to systematically rule things out, it was the nitroglycerin placed under her tongue (which helps in a cardiac event) that gave the first clue.

“Immediately the pain stopped,” she said.
 
In the morning, her Troponin levels increased and she was sent straight to the catheterization lab.  It was there that doctors discovered that she had a very rare cardiac event called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).  The dissection happened so low in her heart that doctors feared they might create additional dissections if they tried to stint it. So, it was left alone and after two days and additional medication, she was sent home.  

One week later, pain hit Jenn again while she was watching her daughter’s softball practice.  This time she took an ambulance ride to the hospital where then pain hit harder than ever and could not been controlled.  Eventually with a catheter they discovered that all of her arteries were having spasms and clinching closed.

There is still no real clarity about why Jenn experienced SCAD and whether or not the spasm episode was related to the SCAD event or if they are entirely unrelated.  Surgery is was not an option for Jenn; but she medically manages her symptoms and takes part in three-times-a-week cardiac rehab (monitored workout sessions) and has, for the most part, remained symptom free.  

Jenn Halvas (pictured above with her family and pictured right with her husband Rich) treasures each day and enjoys an active lifestyle, despite having experienced a very rare cardiac event called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection in 2013.


Jenn’s life has changed a lot since that August.  “I’ve become a different person.  Something like this changes you.  It makes you re-evaluate your priorities.  I think about my kids … what’s really important.  My husband has been amazing through all of this.  I could have never asked for a better husband.  He takes such good care of me,” she shared.  

She gets emotional talking about her journey but still feels strongly about sharing her story in hopes it might help someone else.  She stresses to know the symptoms and to never be afraid of calling 911 (an ambulance can not only drive you to the hospital but the EMTs can also treat you while on the way to the hospital).  

Jenn recommends that all women watch “Just a Little Heart Attack”, a short video featuring actress Elizabeth Banks.  It can be found on the American Heart Association website or on YouTube.  Banks plays a busy mom getting her family ready for the day while ignoring heart attack symptoms and even apologizing to the 911 operator when she finally makes the call.  It’s a humorous “moms do it all” video that women will appreciate and, more importantly, remember.

To learn more about heart disease and all of the symptoms of a heart attack in both men and women, visit the American Heart Association at www.heart.org.    

Much gratitude goes out to the Halvas family for allowing me to share Jenn’s story.

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