Why women need a heart to heart about their health

Jolanta Brzozwska

Mums spend so much time looking out for children and partners that their own health often comes last as Jolanta Brzozwska discovered when she had a heart attack, writes Arlene Harris

Jolanta Brzozwska is 38-years-old. Originally from Poland she lives in Dublin and works as a quality inspector for a large corporation. With two daughters at college, her life is busy, but she always felt healthy and in control of her life – she was far too young to have any health concerns.

But in 2013, she suffered from a near fatal heart attack, despite having little or no warning that her life was in danger.

“I got my first symptom about two weeks before I had the heart attack,” she recalls. “I carried a heavy chair upstairs to my bedroom and after putting it on the ground I felt a crushing pain on my left arm as if someone heavy had been sitting on my shoulder. I thought it was down to what I had been lifting, so just took a deep breath and within minutes I felt normal again.

“But two weeks later, I went to bed and was lying beside my boyfriend when I felt exactly the same pain on my left side – I thought it was just down to feeling tired so I tried to ignore it and then went to sleep. I woke up again a couple of hours later feeling really hot so I drank some water as I felt a burning sensation in my oesophagus. Then I got a terrible cough and pain in my neck and jaw and finally once again, the pain in my arm.”

Jolanta’s boyfriend wanted to call an ambulance but she resisted as she didn’t want her daughters to become upset, so the couple drove to the hospital where she got steadily worse along the way.

“Before I got into the car, I started to vomit and then throughout the journey I cried, prayed and screamed in pain,” says the mother of two.

“I was so scared that I was dying – I was only 36-years-old and didn’t know what could be wrong.

“When we arrived at the hospital I tried to walk but kept falling down, so a nurse put me into a wheelchair and suddenly there were about 10 doctors around me giving me oxygen, taking x-rays and blood samples and giving me morphine – but still no one told me what was wrong.

“Then people started shouting and I was asked to sign a consent form for surgery – I was so afraid. A doctor told me I was having a heart attack and I tried to run away but I was given some medication to calm me down and taken off to surgery where I had two stents put in my artery.” Jolanta’s mother developed dementia when she was in her early 50s so as well as looking after her two daughters, she also took on the role of caring for her mother – which she believes caused her to neglect her own health.

“All of my life I have been taking care of my family – my mother lived with me for two years when she was very sick, so whenever I went to the doctor it was always either with her or my children, never something to do with my own health,” she says.

“I never had a check-up, worked too much, worried too much, smoked and was always stressed. I was a single parent, living in constant fear for my mother – I was afraid to even go to sleep in case something happened to her. And in fact a couple of days after my heart attack, she passed away – which was an incredibly sad time for me. I was very ill and wasn’t even allowed to attend the funeral.

“Heart problems are in my family, as my grandmother had a heart attack when she was 65 and just a month before I had mine, my father had angioplasty to prevent having one as he was also at risk – I had begun to think I should have a check-up myself but at that point, I had left it too late as I had my own heart attack shortly after.”

Since her heart attack and surgery in December 2013, Jolanta has totally changed her lifestyle. She is feeling healthier in both body and mind and says it’s vitally important for everyone to be aware of their heart health – regardless of their age.

“A combination of high cholesterol, smoking, family history and stress was the cause of my heart attack,” she says. “So I have changed everything in my life since then – I have given up smoking and salt, I started eating healthily (and lost 13kg), have joined a gym and have regular check-ups.

“As well as changing the physical side of my life, I also needed a mental recovery and this took over a year. I had to regain confidence in my body and rebuild my self-esteem. I took motivation workshops, learned to drive, became a student at ITT (Institute of Technology, Tallaght) and passed all my exams – I have also just written a book. I can say that I am very well and happy now and so glad to be alive.

“I would urge everyone to try to live more healthily – don’t wait until tomorrow – check your heart, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce stress and quit smoking and if you ever have symptoms like mine, don’t drive to the hospital but call an ambulance. These few tips may just save your life.”

To mark the Irish Heart Foundation’s #RedAlert to women this September, download their FREE ‘women and heart’ magazine on www.irishheart.ie or call 1850 364 364


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