Surviving a Heart Attack at 48

Kelly Halsted exercises after her heart attack.

“It was kind of bizarre, like I was having an out-of-body experience,” recalls Kelly Halsted of Fort Dodge. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m a 48-year-old woman. I can’t be having a heart attack.’”

But that’s exactly what was happening. Like many, Halsted describes herself as a busy woman who is always on the go. So, in fall of 2018, when she started experiencing some fatigue and shortness of breath, she brushed the symptoms off, thinking it was just a head cold. But, after giving a presentation to area business leaders and legislators, Halsted noticed she didn’t feel well.

“I was almost breathless,” she says. “I was supposed to give the same presentation the next day in Sioux City, so I thought maybe I should go to the doctor.”

Halsted was able to get into her provider, April Gapp, ARNP, that same afternoon. When Gapp checked Halsted’s heart rate, she noticed it was unusually high and ordered an EKG. The next thing Halsted knew, she was being wheeled to the emergency room.

By then, she was in heart failure. Even though Halsted describes the event as an out-of-body experience, she remembers her care clearly.

“I knew I was in good hands,” she says. “Everyone was very reassuring and kept me informed about what was going on. It was very methodical, which made me feel safe.”

Her cardiologist performed an angiogram that showed Halsted’s heart was in AFib, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

Halsted was already familiar with the irregularity. Her father had experienced the same condition. Doctors also discovered a blood clot on the back side of Halsted’s heart. The clot meant shocking her heart wasn’t an option.

Halsted was briefly hospitalized, and once doctors found the right medications to control the AFib and help disintegrate her blood clot, she was advised to take advantage of a cardiac rehab program. There, she learned about heart disease and how to stay on the right track while living with AFib. She also discovered how stress was affecting her heart.

“One day, after I finished my exercises, I was still hooked up to all the monitors. I started to check my work email on my phone,” Halsted says. “My nurse, Jessica, says to me, ‘Kelly what are you doing?’ Evidently, instead of my heart rate going down as it should have, it was starting to elevate.”

Along with stress management, the cardiac rehab team also helped Halsted learn more about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise to keep her heart healthy.

“One of the things that impresses me most about them is how much knowledge they have,” Halsted says. “Not just the gals in cardiac rehab, all the nurses that I had from the emergency room, ICU and the regular patient floor — they are all such great educators. It’s amazing how much they must know and understand. It really made me feel confident about my care.”

Today, Halsted continues to make healthy choices and is working to keep her stress levels down, even if it isn’t always easy. However, after her experience at UnityPoint Health—Fort Dodge, she readily admits she has a greater confidence when she speaks about health care to corporations looking to relocate to the area.

“It’s nice to be able to share from firsthand knowledge how great of a hospital we have here. The doctors and nurses are truly amazing,” she says.

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