Mary Ann Cooper
Celebrity & Women's Magazines
Book Author
Surviving your spouse’s heart attack

By Mary Ann Cooper

It was a Saturday might, not unlike any other. I was scurrying around the kitchen trying to figure out what
to come up with for dinner. My husband Gary had slipped into the bedroom a few minutes earlier saying
he was going to lie down for while. I shrugged. No warning bells went off. I went about my business. I was
in the middle of cooking when Gary came out and said he didn’t feel well. Again, no warning bells.
Something he had for lunch, no doubt, or maybe a cold coming on. But then something told me this was
serious. That something wasn’t Gary. He would tell me later he knew he was having a heart attack, but
didn’t want to alarm me. Instead I had to read his body language to figure that out all on my own.

We’re going to the hospital, I said. There was no debate. I grabbed my coat, he grabbed his and off we
went. Gary kept telling me he was fine. He wasn’t in any real pain, he said, he just didn’t feel well. He
wanted to turn the car around. Something kept telling me to keep going. We reached the emergency room
parking lot and Gary weakly smiled at me and did a little Irish jig. See, he said, I’m fine. A little fresh air and I’
m okay. Let’s go home. Something told me to say no and insist we go inside.

That something saved my husband’s life. Gary was in the throes of a heart attack. And as soon as we
knew what was happening, he was surrounding by a caring team of doctors and nurses who cracked
jokes to cut the tension while swiftly hooking him up to IVs and giving him medication to put under his
tongue and swallow. Gary was wisecracking about how attractive his female attending physician was and
she matched him line for line. I was sitting so quietly in my chair, I dared not move lest someone notice me
there and say I would have to leave. I knew I wouldn’t.  

The nurses and doctors kept asking me over and over again when the attack started. I kept saying over
and over again less than an hour ago. I had no idea why this was so important. I would learn later why.
Gary was treated with clot busters while a call was made to a cardiologist to break all speed records to get
there. Thirty minutes later Gary’s cute doctor came back to show us his new ECG. It was the most beautiful
picture I had ever seen. The clot buster had worked and Gary was out of danger. It had not only saved his
life, it had saved his heart muscle from sustaining any significant damage.

Happy ending, right? Almost. As Gary spent a few days in the hospital getting ready to take on the lifestyle
changes to minimize any further risk of heart attacks, I was trying to come to grips with what just
happened. A good friend of mine whose husband had suffered a heart attack a few years earlier quipped,
just be careful his heart attack doesn’t kill you. I laughed it off, acting as if nothing had really changed for
me. I continued to meet my deadlines, work late into the night to finish up so I could spend as much time
as I could during the day with Gary. I continued to be the primary caregiver to my mother and didn’t skip a
beat when in the same week I brought Gary home from the hospital, my mother had to be rushed there for
a life-threatening medical crisis. I was still surfing the Web sorting out my husband’s meds and menu,
making sure the insurance forms were filled out and Gary was enrolled in cardiac rehab program when my
mother had another medical crisis in the hospital. I stayed with her for hours on end while checking to
make sure my husband was following doctors’ orders and not trying to do too much.

I thought I had handled it all very well. I was wrong. As soon as my mother was home from the hospital and
on the mend and Gary got the news from his first stress test that he was doing great, I felt myself spinning
out of control. It started with a backache. My muscles bunched up with tension. Then I developed
heartburn and finally my face went numb. When my heart started to race, I was convinced I was dying.
Now, my friend’s warning had new meaning. I went for a brisk walk in the park to test out my heart. I came
home working up a sweat, but pain free. I never told anyone. My reasoning was that if this was all in my
head, I would be embarrassed and didn’t want anyone to know. If it wasn’t, it was the absolute worst time
to be sick and I would ignore it as long as possible.

Meanwhile, Gary was in great spirits, aggressively pursuing cardiac rehab classes. “If they want to get me,
they better bring Kryptonite next time,” he would say. I shuddered to wonder if there would be a next time.
I went along to cardiac rehab with Gary and as I looked around the room at the other couples there, I was
stunned by the contrast. The fraternity of husbands, all heart attack or heart surgery survivors, were
joking and full of bravado. The wives were pale, and drawn, and looked terrified. It was like looking in a
mirror. I would later find out that one of the women I met that day had been rushed to the hospital the week
earlier, fearful she was having a heart attack. She wasn’t. Another had developed a peptic ulcer. A third
had been diagnosed with hypertension even though she had always had low blood pressure.

When I got home that day, I received a greeting card from a friend whose husband had had a massive
heart attack 15 years ago. Part of his heart muscle was destroyed that day, but they got through it, took it
all in stride and never looked back. They were living life to the fullest and loving every minute of it. I smiled
when I thought about them; it brought me hope. But her note to me was something I’ll never forget. She
wrote. “In times like this, we often forget about how the spouse is suffering. Don’t worry about Gary; he’ll
be fine. It’s time to take care of yourself.”

Apparently, the American Heart Association concurs with this sentiment. On their website, they offer this
advice. “Your heart attack has probably had a big emotional impact on your family. They may feel
frightened, angry, resentful or even guilty. Teenagers are especially sensitive and may think that
something they did caused you to have the heart attack. It’s better for everyone to get his or her feelings
out in the open. Don’t let feelings smolder — that can be destructive. If you think counseling would help
your family deal with your heart attack more quickly, ask your doctor to refer you to someone for help.”

What I learned is that knowledge is power. Burying your head in the sand about your husband’s health or
yours creates the kind of anxiety associated with the fear of the unknown. Communication is crucial, but
do resist the urge to be reassured many times a day that your husband is okay. Staying up half the night
to see if he’s still breathing isn’t necessary or healthy. Don’t laugh. I did that. Life will be different, but
believe it or not it will become “normal” again. For many couples, a heart attack is a bonding experience,
and a wake up call to reorder their priorities and make important lifestyle changes. It was for us. No one is
guaranteed tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean that we have to dwell on that and lose sight of the
wonderment and beauty of today.

Looking Good Magazine
What You Need to Know
By Mary Ann Cooper

If You’re Pregnant, Drink Up!
Everyone knows that nutrition plays an important role in having a baby, but while you are making sure you
are getting enough fruit and veggies, don’t forget to wash it down with lots of water. Not only does water
send digested nutrients speeding along to your baby, it also helps avoid troublesome complications from
pregnancy such as constipation, urinary tract or bladder infections and hemorrhoids. Skipping the water
cooler late in a pregnancy can also lead to dehydration and premature labor. Make sure to drink at least 8
glasses of water a day, but don’t substitute juices, coffee, tea or soda because of their H20 content. The
sugar in some of these drinks will pack on pounds and the caffeine in others actually will act as a diuretic
and reduce the fluid in your body.  

Millet: An Alternative To Wheat
Low carb living doesn’t mean no carb living. The trick is to make those fewer carbohydrates as nourishing
as possible. Whole wheat products pack a powerful punch, but for something that is easier on the
stomach and palate try millet. This hearty grain has been around since Bibical times as a cereal and bread
grain. Today, it is a mainstay of the diet of a third of the world’s population. And why not? Millet is non-
glutinous, produces less allergic reactions that most other grains and is not an acid forming food so it’s
easy to digest. It’s also a “warming grain” which heats up the body to help withstand winter’s wrath.
Available in various forms in most health food stores, millet can be used in casseroles, breads, soups,
stews, soufflés, pilaf, and stuffing. You can even pop it like popcorn! It’s also a tasty cereal and can be
cooked up as an alternative to rice or potatoes as a side dish. This sweet and nutty flavored grain is a high
fiber food containing an alphabet of vitamins and nutrients including B and E. It also is loaded with iron,
magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. And low carb lovers can indulge without guilt. Millet has its
share of protein as well – nearly 15 percent.

Unraveling The Complex B
There’s a reason they call it vitamin B complex. That’s because this nutritional supplement is a
complicated collection of 8 different water-soluble nutrients that are important to the health of vital organs,
eyes, muscles, skin, and hair as well as the nervous system. Studies have even shown that this vitamin
might have a positive effect in the battle to control the devastating effects of diseases like diabetes and
arteriosclerosis. The problem is that the body can’t produce its own vitamin B complex so it has to be
consumed in food products or vitamin supplements.  A healthy diet, which includes meat and fish, dairy
products and eggs, leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts can stock the body with its share
of vitamin B complex. It’s also worth noting that some people need more of this vitamin supplement than
others. Pregnant and lactating women need more, as do those who smoke, drink or have a chronic health
problem. But check with the doctor before loading up on extra Bs, however.

Cut 2,000 Calories Out Of Your Diet
How about being able to lose as much as a half-pound a week without eating less or exercising? By just
using lower calorie substitutes for four foods you eat every day, you can save 2,000 calories a week,
which adds up to enough cut calories to equal up to a pound of weight loss every two weeks. Here’s how:
Swap a no calorie sweetener for sugar and save 16 calories per teaspoon. If you take your coffee or tea
“regular” and have a cup at every meal that translates to almost 700 calories a week in extra calories. And
when you switch from whole milk to skim milk, you could save almost 200 calories a week just from what
you use in coffee or tea, cereal and cooking each week. More than 500 calories can be shaved from your
weekly total just by changing from French or country style bread to reduced calorie bread. And switching
from salted butter to a whipped low calorie margarine for buttering that bread or cooking can knock off
another 600 calories or more each week. It’s that easy!

Good Fish, Bad Fish
Seafood is a great alternative source of protein for people looking to cut down on red meat favorites like
burgers, steaks and roasts that can drive up fat intake and cholesterol. But does the mercury content of
fish pose an even greater risk to your health? As with most health issues, there is no easy answer to this
question. First, here’s what you should know about mercury. You can’t avoid it. Up to 6,000 tons of it are
released naturally into the air each year from the Earth’s oceans and crust. Between 2,000 and 3,000 more
tons are sent into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. So, what about seafood? Fish absorb mercury
from the water, and in the case of larger fish, from smaller fish they eat. That’s why the smaller the fish,
generally, the lower the mercury risk. The FDA says there is no real need to restrict eating the top ten
seafood family including canned tuna, shrimp, pollock, salmon, cod, catfish, clams, flatfish, crabs, and
scallops, which makes up 80 percent of the market. However, swordfish and shark should be eaten no
more than once a week.

Any Diet Will Work If You Work At It
If the anxiety of trying to decide what diet is best for you makes you want to reach for comfort foods, step
away from the chocolate and stop agonizing over that choice. Researchers at Tufts-New England Medical
Center say just pick any diet and get started, already!  In a study of 160 subjects ranging in age from 22 to
72, researchers found that it didn’t really matter what diet these dieters selected to follow, it only mattered
that they stayed with it. The best advice to lose those stubborn pounds? Forget about the arguments
about the merits of low carb and low calorie; just find a diet that works best for your lifestyle and that you
know you can stick with for a reasonable period of time. Get your doctor’s okay and don’t look back.

Coffee, A Health Drink?
Put the jolt back into your mocha latte or keep it decaf. Either way, drink up without the guilt.  A recent
study in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds that drinking regular coffee could actually
reduce the risk of developing liver cancer. Tokyo’s National Cancer Center studied nearly 100,000 people
during a ten year period, and concluded that those who drank coffee daily or almost daily had half the risk
of developing liver cancer as those who never drank coffee. This comes on the heels of studies linking
coffee to lower risks of other diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. And what about decaf?  
A Harvard study in the same journal shows that people drinking two or more cups of decaffeinated coffee
a day had 50 percent less incidences of rectal cancer as those who never drank decaf.

Don’t Be Too Flexible
One of the benefits of an exercise program is being able to increase your range of motion. You bend and
stretch and reach for the stars. Suddenly, you can reach behind your back with ease or touch your toes.
Great, right? Maybe not. Increased flexibility could harm your joints. That’s because the tissue that helps
keep joints stable and in place could be stretched and lengthened by exercises like deep knee bends.  
Unstable joints can make you prone to injury and arthritis, so don’t overdo it and become a contortionist
when you work out. You could be trading a range of motion for a range joint and muscle problems and

When Working Out Has You In Stitches
You’re working up a sweat as you walk up a hill or rev up the treadmill, then suddenly you get a jabbing,
burning pain in your side. What’s going on? Unless the pain radiates to the chest and shoulder, which
could indicate a more serious problem, you’re probably experiencing a side stitch, and it’s no laughing
matter. It’s usually triggered by a cramp in the diaphragm, which occurs as a result of breathing rapidly
and pumping the large muscle groups in the legs. Moving those muscles puts pressure on the abdomen
and the rapid breathing expands the lungs. Both press up against the diaphragm, which cuts off its blood
and oxygen flow causes the painful spasm known as the side stitch. That’s the time to stop what you’re
doing, press down on the painful spot and forcefully exhale. The stretch your arms above your head. But if
you want to avoid side stitches altogether, avoid eating fatty, slow digesting food before exercising which
can weigh down the stomach and increase pressure on the diaphragm.

Can Exercise Curb Appetite? Yes…And No
If you get discouraged because all you want to do is eat after strenuous exercise, don’t despair. You’re
just doing the wrong kind of exercise. The rule of thumb is that exercise that is intense and elevates the
body temperature like brisk walking and jogging, actually suppresses the appetite. On the other hand,
swimming, which lowers body temperature, stimulates hunger pangs.  Low intensity workouts also tend
to increase appetite. How long and hard you work out determines how long that appetite suppression
lasts and how powerful it is.

Warm Up To Burn Calories
For people setting up an exercise program for the first time, one thing that’s seldom given great
importance is warming up. And that’s a big mistake on more than one level.  According to the American
Council on Exercise, doing stretches and warm-up exercises before getting down to more intense
exercise makes muscles more elastic and less susceptible to injuries. Beyond that, warming up the
muscles actually creates more energy to complete a more intense exercise routine and burn calories more
efficiently. What’s the best way to warm-up? If you’re going out for a jog, spend a few minutes walking or
slowing pedaling a stationary bicycle, first. In other words, spend five or ten minutes lightly exercising the
muscles groups that you’re targeting for more intense exercise, later.

Take A Break, You’ll Get More Done
Working through lunch at your desk is becoming more and more common in today’s office. But did you
know that you may actually be less productive if you don’t take a break, even for just a minute or two,
every half hour or so? It can as simple as standing up and walking around your desk area or stretching
your arms above your head and side-to-side. But the benefits of these simple moves can be significant.
Studies like one done by Cornell University show that office workers make fewer mistakes and get more
work done by taking these small breaks throughout the day. The studies also show that these workers
also have less of a risk to develop computer related injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Coping With Chronic Pain
The one thing you want to avoid is exercise when you’re in pain from sore and tired muscles, but in some
cases, that’s exactly what you should do. The fact is that exercise causes you to make chemicals, called
endorphins, which are nature’s painkiller. The chemicals blocks pain signals from reaching your brain.
They also lift your spirits by relieving anxiety and depression. The exercise, itself, can tighten and
strengthen muscles around sore joints, acting like nature’s brace for knees, elbows and wrists wracked
with arthritis. You’ll also sleep sounder and lose the extra weight that could be putting pressure on these
same joints – especially the knees.

Keeping Fit Improves Sex Life
Want to improve your sex life? Try exercising outside of the bedroom. The American Council on Exercise
(ACE), America’s non-profit fitness advocate, indicates that working out improves cardiovascular blood
flow, which increases stamina and sexual function. People who exercise regularly have greater self-
esteem, according to the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, and enjoy sex more. Beyond the
emotional issues, regular workouts and a healthier diet has shown to improve erectile dysfunction in
overweight men, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. As with any
physical activity, a healthy sex life begins with a healthy lifestyle.

If The Shoe Fits…
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – and just the right shoe. Did you know that
people walk as much as 115,000 miles during the course of their lives? That’s enough miles to go around
the world four times. So be careful when you pick out your next set of sports sneakers. Not all sneakers
are created equal. If you are looking for a sneaker for jogging, make sure to choose one with extra
cushioning to act as a shock absorber for your joints. If you are into dance and aerobics, choose one with
great ankle support for sudden starts and stops. And when it comes to great fit, make sure to try on shoes
with the same sock you intend to wear once you buy them. Also, always try to go shoe shopping in the
late afternoon and evening when your feet are a bit swollen so you know the shoes will fit all day and night.

Silence Not Golden For Wives
When women hold their tongues during marital spats, they risk more than just losing an argument. They
risk ruining their health. That’s the results of a study that was presented at the Second International
Conference on Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke.  The ten year study of 3,000 married men and women
aged 18 to 77 shows that wives who didn’t speak up to defend themselves during domestic squabbles
were four times more at risk to die of any cause during the study than those who had no problem venting
their anger. Another reason for brides to speak now or forever hold their peace!

Stress Linked To Muscle Tension
Stress has been linked to heart disease and strokes, but that’s not all. Stress can also cause a person to
lose coordination and have household accidents. Tense feelings lead to tense muscles that make for
lumbering, clumsy movement. Before you know it, you’re tripping over tables and knocking over water
tumblers. That said, try to manage stress before it gets out of hand by trying not to overextend yourself or
your schedule. Do deep breathing exercises, practice meditation or yoga, and by all means try not to do
two things at once. Slow down and you’ll be as graceful as a gazelle in no time at all.

Not Just For Kids Anymore
Juggling a job, a home and the care of children can be overwhelming. Appointments are missed and
nothing seems to get done. A certain degree of chaos is normal in life, but a repeated pattern of agitation
and procrastination could be a sign of attention-deficit disorder –ADD. Once thought to be a condition
affecting only children with learning problems, ADD is now recoginized by the World Health Organization
as an adult disorder. So if you find yourself distracted and fidgety and unable to focus on the task at hand,
don’t chalk it up to the price to be paid for living in the fastlane, seek medical advice. If ADD is the
underlying cause of your disjointed behavior, your doctor can prescribe medications to get back control
of your life, and the sooner you begin treatment, the better.

Dream Your Troubles Away
How many times have you heard, “Get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel better in the morning.” Well, it’s
not just the rest that makes you feel better; it’s how your mind works to make you feel better after you drift
off to sleep. According to a study of 470 students by the University of Alberta and University of Montreal
researchers published in the Journal of Sleep Research, dreams are nature’s way of dealing with and
adjusting to emotional events in our lives. These dreams continue for up to seven days after a significant
life experience as we work through the various stages of problem solving or grief. The mind chooses the
down time of dream time, which scientists say typically lasts two hours or more each night, to rest and
repair itself whether we remember those dreams or not.

What’s The Point Of Acupuncture?
In the practice of Chinese medicine, illness is thought to be caused by an imbalance in the chi (flow of life).
The insertion of acupuncture needles into pathway points where the chi flows is believed to redirect the
chi and correct that imbalance allowing the body to heal itself. According to the National Institutes of
Health, researchers are looking into the possibility that acupuncture may actually stimulate the brain and
spinal cord to trigger natural healing. It may also stimulate the release of endorphins to control pain.  Much
is left to be learned about this alternative treatment for pain or illness. So, if you are considering
acupuncture, consult your family doctor for his recommendation and choose a practitioner who is
certified by National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). And do
make sure that the practitioner uses sterilized disposable needles in his practice. Finally, remember that
acupuncture takes a commitment of time and money. Your insurance may or may not pay for it and
treatments are usually done over a series of weeks on an outpatient basis.