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App provides support for heart attack survivors

SPONSORED — Approximately every 40 seconds, someone in America has a heart attack.

While people who survive may feel lucky, recovering from a heart attack is taxing, both physically and emotionally.

A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely, according to the American Heart Association. This usually happens because arteries that supply the heart with blood can become narrowed from plaque, a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances. When the plaque breaks off, a blood clot forms around it and this clot can block blood flow to the heart, starving the heart muscle of oxygen and nutrients.

It takes time for the muscle to heal after a heart attack, and recovery may be prolonged by the need for surgery. Rest is an important part of that recovery time, but “it’s just as important for you to participate in recreation and social events and to begin making physical activity a part of your daily life,” the AHA says on their website.

My Cardiac Coach is a free app from the American Heart Association created to help heart attack patients in their recovery, complementing care from their health care providers. In addition to physical recovery goals, the AHA recently added an emotional well-being section, developed with support from Premera Blue Cross.

Although patients and doctors tend to be concerned with physical wellbeing more than mental health, it’s common for survivors to deal with fear, anxiety, anger and loneliness.

As much as 33 percent of heart attack patients can have these symptoms, according to the AHA. Although mental health difficulties are normal after a heart attack, if it interferes with sleeping, eating, self-esteem, or leads to thoughts of suicide, patients should ask for help from a trusted support team of healthcare professionals, family and friends. Health insurance plans vary, so it’s a good idea to contact your insurance provider for mental health benefits covered by your plan.

Sara Hoffman, a heart attack survivor at age 37, learned firsthand how difficult the emotional recovery can be following a heart attack. She was on a flight from Seattle to Mexico for her wedding when she felt a burning in her jaw, upper chest and left arm. A cardiologist on board her flight recognized possible symptoms of a cardiac event and treated her with medication available from the airline until the plane made its emergency landing in New Orleans.

Hoffman was rushed to hospital where doctors determined that she had suffered the kind of heart attack called a widowmaker. Two days after the heart attack, she left the hospital and continued to Mexico for her wedding. But her recovery was just beginning.

“Being so young and faced with your own mortality, it was overwhelming,” Hoffman said. ““You lose trust in your own body. You now have the sense of fear that something bad is going to happen at any time. When something feels off, your mind immediately goes to the worst place scenario.”

She couldn’t find support groups for young heart attack survivors and the experience felt isolating.

“Nobody understands what you’re going through,” Hoffman said. “Your family is recovering from the experience, too, but they get back to normal life, and you’re still recovering in cardiac rehab and just trying to walk around the block.”

She said nobody talked about her mental health throughout her recovery, something that would be helpful for heart attack survivors.

“It may be that I was just presenting myself well and trying to stay positive, but not everyone wears their emotions on their sleeve,” Hoffman said.

If you or your loved ones have been affected by a heart attack, download the free My Cardiac Coach app, available on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. Learn more at heart.org/mycardiaccoach.

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