Article By: Paul Gallagher
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Lorraine Kinzel was in her 40s when she had a heart attack before being told she had severe unstable angina.
I had a heart attack in 2013 completely out of the blue. I’d just arrived in A&E as they thought I had a hiatus hernia, a condition where part of the stomach pushes up into the lower chest through a weakness in the diaphragm.
It was a hot summer day and I was waiting in the ambulance for ages. I finally got into the emergency ward and that’s where I had the heart attack, so whizzed straight upstairs to be seen. If you’re going to have a heart attack, being in a hospital is the best place to have one.
I have a massive family history of heart problems but was only 44 at the time so didn’t think it would happen at that age. I was shocked more than anything. I had a young family still so it really hit me. I had my last son when I was 38 so he wasn’t that old. I just thought ‘Oh my God, I could have died and not seen my children grow up’. It changed my entire outlook on life. Even now I just take each day as it arrives – get up in the morning and see what the world’s going to bring me.
I had a couple of stents put in – one after the heart attack happened and another seven months later – and was ok for a while. I was concentrating on just taking more care of myself. As a mother you look after everyone else first, and didn’t take care of myself – not as much as I should have done.
There was a lot of physio involved. The second stent took quite a lot out of me and it took a long while to recover from that – mentally and physically. It taught me I had to slow down, say no to people – I never used to say no to anyone. It was a change of lifestyle.
I was doing ok for a few years then like a bolt from the blue, in 2018, I started having quite severe angina – chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. I was soon diagnosed with unstable angina and was put on medication that I’ve been on since.
I knew straight away what it was. The doctors tested my heart – I had an angiogram – and was told everything’s OK, the stents were ok, but that I’ve got unstable angina. The angina attacks started to happen all the time, even at rest which was all the more shocking. I’d just be sat at home watching TV, or eating my lunch, and it could come on massively. I thought I was having another heart attack, although it wasn’t as strong.
My GP contacted the cardiac specialist at my local hospital and he put me on a new drug. That was like a miracle. I had some really bad side effects to begin with – severe migraines, nausea – but those eventually cleared. I was willing to put up with them, and they did say it would take a while to subside. They did go away after a few months when I was back to being a normal person again. The drug has been fabulous. It has taken away between 85 and 90 per cent of the incidents.
If that drug wasn’t available I wouldn’t be able to function as a mother to be honest. I couldn’t do anything, because the attacks were happening all the time, multiple times a day. I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t walk or anything. I’d never know when the angina would hit. And the symptoms would be exactly the same – it didn’t matter if I was exercising or doing absolutely nothing.
I’d wake up and be constantly anxious, worried about what was going to happen that day. The rest of my family were fantastic. They really stood up and said: ‘Look mum, we’ll take over. You just sit there and rest.’ My kids, parents, everyone.
I started doing my own research into unstable angina as I wanted to find out as much as I could about it. Google was my favourite companion at the time. I was back and forwards to the doctors, who were also fantastic, going between me and the cardiac team whenever I needed it.
I can go out and walk the dogs now, go for a drive – something I could never do before I started the new medication. And not being able to drive meant I could never take the kids anywhere. I just didn’t want to chance myself. The drug has changed my life, I’ll tell you that. I know it’s not a cheap drug and it might not work for everybody, I don’t know. But it has worked for me and I’m ever so grateful for that.
I take a daily pill – never go without it. I always still carry on my GTN spray – something people use every day under your tongue to help prevent chest pain starting. I know if I do too much, exercise for example, then the angina can come on so I’ve got to pace myself now. I know the limits I can take my body too.
I don’t push myself over limit now. It has taken a few years to get to that stage, but the vast majority of the angina attacks are under control now.