By Kim Lewis, as told by Stephanie Watson
As a single mom, I did a lot of juggling. I had an active son who worked in a health and sports facility. I was busy. Making time for doctor’s appointments and taking care of myself wasn’t at the top of my list. I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to be proactive about my health.
A little over 20 years ago, when I was 32, I had a cough that wouldn’t go away. I was having such trouble breathing that I had to sleep upright in a chair to get enough air into my lungs.
I kept going back to my doctor and telling him my cough wasn’t getting better and I couldn’t breathe. He diagnosed me with all sorts of diseases – pneumonia, ambulatory pneumonia, bronchitis. Finally, after the third or fourth visit, I told my doctor, “I think I need to see a lung specialist.”
The lung specialist immediately sent me to the hospital, where I fell into a coma. When I got off it 3 days later, my doctors told me I had an infection of my heart muscle called myocarditis, which was caused by a virus. I had heart failure.
The doctors told me I had 5 years to live. My son was 12 years old at the time. That means I won’t be able to see him graduate from high school. It was terrifying to think about. It is all global.
My son was my little boy, but he had to grow up fast. I was so sick that I needed him to take care of me. When he was 15, he had to take me to the hospital if I got sick in the middle of the night. If my port came out, he would call the doctor and say, “Tell me what to do.” My heart failure put a lot of pressure on him.
Transform my health
I knew I had to make drastic changes if I was going to get more time with my son. I started eating healthy. There was no more going to fast food windows for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I was sitting down to heart-healthy meals. Instead of keeping snack cakes and candy bars on my countertop, I have bananas, apples, and oranges. I stock my fridge with water bottles, not soda.
Exercise has also become a priority. Instead of watching TV in the evening, I go for a walk. I teach aqua fitness class 3 days a week and play with my grandchildren to stay active. I make sure I exercise and see my doctors. I take a treatment recommended for heart failure to help my heart pump blood more effectively.
I have these really great doctors who keep a close eye on me and take good care of me. They say I am nothing short of a miracle. They don’t have an explanation for how much I can do, but they think it’s a combination of healthy living, good medication and weight loss.
What would I have done differently
If I could talk to my ex, I’d tell her she needs to take better care of her body. I can look back now and say I probably should have gone to the doctor more than once. I should have been more physically active. And I should have had a salad with a slice of pizza instead of three slices of pizza.
I also should have asked for a second opinion when my doctor crossed out my symptoms. If the doctors had developed heart failure sooner, I would not have had permanent damage. There is a fine line between trusting your doctor and trusting your intuition. If you’re not comfortable with what your doctor tells you, it’s okay to get a second opinion.
If I had done it again, I would definitely have prioritized my health. I have met a lot of other heart failure survivors who put their health on the back burner while taking care of everything else. I should have put my health first and taken care of me.
A new look at life
Being so close to death made me appreciate life more. I appreciate vacations, dinners with friends, sunrises and sunsets, and the sound of rain. I appreciate family gatherings. I have a very large family here in Tennessee. We meet about four times a year. I get tickled every time I see her.
I feel that life is more valuable now. I know I got a second chance. After being told I have 5 years to live, I have lived over 20. Every day is a gift.