Photo Courtesy Heather Evans
April 9, 2021
"Exercise saved my life"
Heather Evans, 56, knows what it is like to face death: she has done so multiple times and survived to share her message of hope.
Evans’ first brush came when she was just 39, and the mom of a five-year-old son, when she had her first attack.
It came with very little warning.
“I was at home along with my five-year-old son and had this panicky feeling, a tingling in my arm and fluttering in my ear,” says Evans. “I did go to the doctor, but I was diagnosed with tendonitis.”
The anxiety continued and Evans had a gut feeling that there was something wrong with her heart, so she headed back to her doctor’s office. They did an ECG and immediately called the ambulance because Evans was having a heart attack.
The last thing she remembers while waiting to be admitted at the Foothills Medical Centre was the warmth of the lights, which appeared as though they were moving closer and closer.
“Then I was gone,” says Evans. “When I came to, I asked the paramedic with me and found out that I had coded.”
Evans had a second heart attack that evening after receiving a stent.
“That is when I learned I had heart disease,” she says.
It is a condition that runs in Evans’ family. She has lost four sisters and one brother to heart disease, with the youngest sibling dying at just 45 years old. In fact, none of her siblings have lived past age 61.
Evans’ heart troubles have persisted. She has suffered seven heart attacks and three open heart surgeries. She feels fortunate to have survived, and, as a single mom, is grateful to have seen her son reach adulthood.
Evans’s survival wasn’t all about luck or the care she received. She took charge of her health by making huge lifestyle changes: she stopped smoking and started eating well and exercising—under the careful monitoring of health care professionals. Her hard work paid off.
“Exercise saved my life,” she says, explaining it helped her physical and mental health, as it allowed her to work through all the painful emotions, like fear of death and not being there for her son, she went through after her first attack. “I wouldn’t be able to function without working out.”
Today Evans is a certified fitness trainer and the general manager of a Goodlife Fitness centre. She is passionate about sharing her story to raise awareness about the importance of diet and nutrition in overall wellness.
“The driving force for me is heart disease,” she says. “If I can prevent anyone from going through what I have gone through it is worth it.”
Evans also wants women to be aware that heart disease can also impact them. In fact, it is the No. 1 cause of premature death in both women and men in Canada.
“I hadn’t been feeling well and I went to the doctor, but he didn’t recognize my symptoms,” she says. “Women need to realize that their symptoms may be different than a man’s. It doesn’t have to be the classic chest pains. We have to do better at this.”
The Libin Cardiovascular Institute is tackling the unique cardiovascular issues women face throughout their lifetime through its Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative. Learn more about this exciting initiative at https://libin.ucalgary.ca/research/research-initiatives/cv-me
The Libin Cardiovascular Institute promotes healthy lifestyles through the Libin Moves initiative. Visit libinmoves.ca for resources, incentives and expert information to help you get – and stay – active!