She thought she had bronchitis, but the problem was her heart.

Heart disease survivor Terita Grier. (Photo courtesy of Terita Grier)

Terita Grier struggled with obesity her entire life. She also has diabetes and high blood pressure, two of the main risk factors for heart disease. Her father died of a massive heart attack a month before she was married, in his 20s. As he approached 50, Grier had a cardiac stress test.

The doctor did not detect any problems.

Fast forward three months. Grier began to cough, wheeze, and feel mild discomfort in the back of her shoulder. She thought she had bronchitis. A month later, she woke up one morning feeling worse. She felt God telling her, “Go check this out.”

Grier drove to the nearest hospital in suburban Atlanta, expecting to be sent home with a prescription.

“I swear I thought I’d stay in the emergency room for a few hours and go home,” she said. “But it was not the case.”

After several blood draws and some tests, the doctor told Grier that she had a very high level of the enzyme that indicates she had a heart attack. The doctor said she had cardiac asthma.

Grier’s lifelong friend Lisa White, whom Grier considers a sister, was living with her. White remembers getting the call.

“I told her, ‘I don’t know why, but for about a month or so, God just had me in (her) room praying, and I didn’t know what for,'” White said. “When she called me from the hospital, I immediately burst into tears and said, ‘That’s right, that’s it! He just wouldn’t stop.’

The next day, Grier had a cardiac catheterization procedure. Once the dye inside his arteries was lit up on the screen, the doctor saw that three of his heart’s main arteries were 90% blocked. Instead of opening them with stents, the doctors decided she would need heart bypass surgery.

With her family by her side, Grier experienced a rush of emotion. Tears flowed.

“I started dictating my will,” she said. “I thought it was my death sentence.”

Grier was transported by ambulance to an Atlanta heart center. Several days later, after the medical team got her diabetes and blood pressure under control, she had a successful quadruple bypass.

“Prior to the procedure, the surgeon spoke to (my family) and stated that he could not explain how I was still walking and alive in this condition, because many patients with this diagnosis do not survive,” she said.

Terita Grier and her slightly visible scar from open-heart surgery. She calls it the “Grace & Mercy” tattoo. (Photo courtesy of Terita Grier)

Grier was one of the lucky ones. Just like her mother, who had a cardiac arrest in the hospital waiting room. She received immediate treatment and recovered.

Grier’s ordeal came in January 2016. In 2019, she lost the job she had for 20 years when her role in the IT department of a major airline was transferred overseas.

Losing her income and insurance made taking care of her other medical issues a struggle. Grier also has stage 3 kidney failure. She has had uterine cancer and a hysterectomy. She has a degenerative bone disease and possibly a bulging disc that is so painful she is struggling to get disability insurance and hopefully Medicare. Living off her savings and without health insurance, the procedure her doctor recommended is too expensive, leaving Grier to manage the pain with medication.

“I didn’t take the best care I should have. In my later years, I’m trying to do better,” she said. “Health is important and I see how important it is. It’s hard when I’m trying to catch up.”

In the same year, she suffered another blow when her mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died a few months later.

When she was still employed, Grier took an active role on the airline’s wellness team. She was the right person for the activities the team was doing for different conditions. She began sharing her own journey with heart disease, hoping to help others.

“I believe my journey is not just for me, but also for others to hear my testimony and hopefully become more aware of how important and prevalent heart disease is” among women, she said. “Our symptoms may not be exactly like men’s, so we must be polite and watchful.”

Stories from the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers, and advocates.

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association News story, please email [email protected]🇧🇷

She thought she had bronchitis, but the problem was her heart.

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