Keeping my ticker ticking with American Heart Association

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Come and take part in the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Walk on Oct. 5 at Cheney Stadium.

When Tom Bettesworth (left) suffered a major artery blockage, his wife, Amy, and their dog, Jessie, jumped into care team mode to help him reduce stress and increase his physical activity.

By Tom Bettesworth

According to the American Heart Association, the “classic” warning signs of a heart attack include chest discomfort, discomfort in other areas of the upper body and shortness of breath. Although I was experiencing pain in my chest and pain down my arm, those “classic” symptoms, I didn’t recognize I was having a heart attack.

It was in October 2014 and I was working in a fast paced, high stress job. A co-worker noticed I was a little sweaty, shaking, and a “bit off” and encouraged me to go home and get some rest. At home the pain continued. I told myself that if I didn’t feel better in the morning, I would go to the doctor to get checked out. During the night, the pain increased to a level that felt like sharpest pain I had ever experienced, and by the next morning, I knew I had to seek medical attention.

I went to urgent care and when I shared my symptoms, they told me to immediately go to the emergency room. I now know I should have called 9-1-1 from the very beginning. Once I arrived at the emergency room, I was escorted straight into a procedure room for a CAT scan and it was determined that I had a 90 percent blockage in my main artery. Within four hours of arriving at the ER, a stent had been placed in my heart’s artery to restore blood flow. I was lucky to be alive.

Despite a strong family history of heart diseae, I didn’t think it could happen to me. I was diligent about regular visits to my doctor and addressed any risk factors that were identified. I believe, however, that I internalized my stress and downplayed the risk of my family history.

Today my life is a lot different. I changed jobs to reduce my stress level and our family adopted a dog named, Jessie. Jessie is keeping me committed to physical activity with twice-daily walks. I’ve adjusted my diet and lost a few pounds that I have kept off.

I am participating in the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Walk on Oct. 5 at Cheney Stadium to celebrate my return to health and support other heart warriors. My team, Toms Tickers, is a team of family and friends who have encouraged me in this journey. I invite everyone to come out and walk with our community. Registration is easy at southsoundheartwalk.org. Whether you’re walking in honor of a loved one or are a survivor like me, together we’re raising money for lifesaving research. The science behind stents, the device that opened my main artery, was science funded in part by the American Heart Association. My story could have a different ending if this lifesaving discovery wasn’t available. I am proud to be a part of the heart community.

Tom Bettesworth is a South Sound resident and volunteer for the American Heart Association. To walk or volunteer at the Heart and Stroke Walk in Tacoma, sign up at southsoundheartwalk.org. All ages welcome.

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