Angel Schneider never dreamed that she would one day become a voice for heart attack survivors.

That’s because Schneider, the executive assistant to the senior vice president at First State Bank, never thought she’d have a heart attack. Though heart disease runs rampant in her family, Schneider had committed herself to getting healthy. She lost 43 pounds in a little over a year and was doing regular 30-minute high intensity workouts in her hometown of Proctorville. “I would’ve considered myself the healthiest person in my family,” Schneider said.

But on the evening of Sept. 11, 2018, Schneider didn’t do her workout. She felt cold and tired and told her husband of 15 years, Thomas, that she thought she was coming down with something. But as she helped her kids, Madeline, 8, and Col, 10, with their homework, she started feeling much worse. “I had pressure in my chest, not pain,” Schneider said. “It was a warm sensation in my chest like an egg cooking. I thought, what in the world?”

Schneider also felt a dull ache in her armpit, her left arm was going numb, she was short of breath, and she felt nauseated and shaky. But still, she fought going to the hospital.

Finally Schneider’s husband convinced her and she went to St. Mary’s Medical Center’s ER, where she found out she had suffered a heart attack. “I thought, I’m 43 and I need a heart cath?” she said.

Schneider was found to have two blockages of 80 and 70 percent and had two stents inserted. She said it all happened so fast, it didn’t really hit her until the next morning when she found herself alone after Thomas went home to check on their kids. “My first thought was, I could’ve left my kids,” Schneider said. “And if I had, would they have known how much their mommy loved them?”

Schneider has nothing but compliments for the care she received at St. Mary’s and the team from St. Mary’s Cardiac Rehabilitation program. “St. Mary’s did everything right,” she said. “And everyone in Cardiac Rehab was wonderful. They’re all fabulous. It was a little intimidating at first, but I got so much support there. And they still check on me.”

Now, Schneider uses her experience to help others think about their health. “I have people stopping me and asking about my symptoms,” she said. “If I can help other women, I want to. I almost didn’t go to the hospital. I knew something was going on, but I couldn’t let myself think it could happen to me. You have to listen to your body.”

In April, Schneider took the stage at the American Heart Association Huntington Heart Walk, presented by St. Mary’s Regional Heart Institute, and whipped the crowd of nearly 600 into a frenzy with her enthusiasm and positive message of recovery. Her team, Angel’s Heart & Sole, raised nearly $2,800 for the American Heart Association, earning the award for the top community fundraising team and earning Schneider the award for top individual fundraiser. More than 60 people attended the walk as part of her team. “I’m one blessed girl to have so many wonderful people in my life,” she said. “My cup runneth over.”

Schneider is continuing to support the American Heart Association and spread her message of paying attention to your health.

“Listen to your body, know your family history,” Schneider said. “It’s okay to love yourself and it’s okay to put yourself first. As women, we don’t do that and I have had to do that. I’m not good at putting myself first. It’s okay to let people help you. I don’t have to juggle all the balls.”

Even though Schneider never expected to have a heart attack, she has embraced that she did and is turning that negative into a big positive for her and her family.

“Without the heart attack, I would’ve never known about the blockages,” she said.

“My heart attack was a blessing.”

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, regardless of race.

It is more fatal than all forms of cancer combined and claims the lives of nearly 350,000 women every year. Here are some of the reasons why heart disease is so prevalent in women:

• Women typically develop heart disease later on in life when they may already be living with other health conditions, such as osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. These health conditions can mask the signs and symptoms of heart disease.

• Women are more likely to have less obvious heart attack symptoms, such as shoulder pain, nausea, vomiting and heart flutters.

•  Since women do tend to experience “innocent” chest pain, physicians are more likely to ignore them as possible signs of heart disease.

• Most of the research conducted so far has been on men. New studies, however, are targeting women to advance diagnosis and treatment of their special and gender-specific needs. Scientists are studying whether women’s smaller blood vessels  increase their heart disease risk since blood has a more difficult time passing through narrowed or smaller vessels, making them more vulnerable to blockage.

• Women tend to seek medical treatment later than men but ensure their husbands and fathers never miss an appointment.

Heart disease is one of the most preventable health concerns. Women who are reluctant to put themselves and their health needs first should remind themselves that their families need them to be healthy.

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