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For Heart Attack Survivors, Emotional Well-Being Vital to Recovery

Sara Hoffman suffered a heart attack on the plane to Mexico for her wedding. She survived and made it to Mexico two days later. (Sara Hoffman)
Sara Hoffman suffered a heart attack on the plane to Mexico for her wedding. She survived and made it to Mexico two days later. (Sara Hoffman)
June 14, 2019

SEATTLE – The physical recovery after a heart attack can be grueling, but a person's emotional and mental recovery can be just as intense – and in some cases, even more trying.

About four years ago, Sara Hoffman was on a flight from Seattle to Mexico for her wedding when she suffered a heart attack known as a "widow maker" because of its poor survival rate. Hoffman was only 37 at the time, and living a healthy lifestyle she thought would shield her from a genetic disposition toward heart disease.

Two days after the heart attack, Hoffman was in Mexico for her wedding. But when she got home, she started feeling isolated and lonely.

"You've just gone through this traumatic thing and, you know, your heart is one of your most vital organs, and now feeling like it could happen again at any time,” says Hoffman. “And how do I trust my body again to know that I really am okay, even though the doctor's telling me I am? How do I truly know that?"

Hoffman says having a heart attack in her 30s made her feel even more isolated, and she struggled to find support groups for people her age.

As many as one in three heart attack survivors suffers from depression, according to the American Heart Association.

The app "My Cardiac Coach" from the AHA helps address emotional well-being after heart attacks. It can give folks expert advice, track their blood pressure and weight, and connect them to support groups.

In collaboration with Washington state-based health insurer Premera Blue Cross, My Cardiac Coach also offers mental-health screenings.

Hoffman says she wishes this app and its health-screening function had been around after her heart attack.

"If you are answering the questions in a way that show that you might be suffering from some depression or anxiety, it'll give you some tips or resources to connect with as you go through the questionnaire,” says Hoffman. “So, I think having something like that is just another resource or toolkit people can have in their recovery."

For people who know a heart attack survivor, Hoffman notes just because they look like they're doing okay, doesn't mean they aren't experiencing depression. She says it's important to ask them how they are feeling.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA