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Spotlight: Malenda McCalister, Kentucky

by on Sunday, June 2, 2013

Malenda McCalister Kentucky

On October 25, 2008, my life changed forever: I was collapsing on the living room floor suffering from a massive heart attack. Ten days before, I was bringing my little boy into the world. What was supposed to be a happy occasion wasn’t so much for me. While everyone in my room was happy and celebrating the birth of our son, my husband and I were worried. Me, because I just didn’t feel right, and my husband because he knew something wasn’t right with me.

My husband was excited to see our new son and I was too, but I couldn’t enjoy it and to tell the truth, I don’t remember a whole lot of my stay in the hospital. Right before I gave birth, I began to feel strange.  I couldn’t breathe very well and my head and my teeth began to hurt. I felt like someone was smashing my teeth out of my mouth with a hammer. I kept telling the nurses before and after I had my son that I didn’t feel right, but they just kept telling me it was the side effects from the epidural. Looking back, I don’t think they really knew that I was having problems with my heart. They could only give me the information they had been taught in nursing school.  I don’t blame them for not seeing the signs that I was in the beginning of having a heart attack. I’m hoping in the future to change what nurses are taught when they become an OB nurse.

When I went home a couple of days later, I still felt bad. In fact I felt worse. I had no idea that the arteries on the left side of my heart were dissecting. I did the best I could to take care of our six year old daughter and our baby son, but I just couldn’t do it. My husband took care of me and helped with the baby over the weekend. He had to go back the following week and I had to force myself to get back into our regular routine. That meant taking my daughter to school and taking the baby to the doctor. He was born with jaundice, so I had to make sure I took him to the doctor to begin the bilirubin tests.

On the following Tuesday, almost a week after the baby was born, I wasn’t feeling any better. In fact I was barely breathing. My husband didn’t have to be at work for a few hours that day, so he said he would drive me and the baby to get his test done. While we were there he made me go to the emergency room. When the nurse saw me she just looked at me and told my husband they were going to admit me. I must have looked really bad. They took my blood pressure, which was all over the place and I was very swollen. They gave me some Lasix pills to help with the extra water I was holding in my body. 

They took me upstairs and I was in there for two and a half days while they were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. They ran a lot of tests and diagnosed me with a cardiomyopathy. I guess they thought I was too young to have a heart attack.  I was only 30 at the time. They didn’t check to see if that’s what it was or that I was dissecting.  I later learned through my own research that it's hard to detect when a SCAD is happening.

I was sent home with a lot of medications and that’s where I thought it would end. I was told to take the meds and I should be fine in a few weeks or so. Within 24hrs, I was collapsing in front of my daughter having a massive heart attack. My arteries had dissected even more which was causing me to have the heart attack. When I felt the first twinge of pain, I panicked. It wasn’t like you see in the movies where they grab their chests and arm. My teeth by that time were in severe pain. I began to have a panic attack. I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest while someone was holding my head under water.

At the time I was on the phone with the pediatrician about the baby’s jaundice. I quickly got off the phone and handed the baby to my mother in law and went into my bedroom. My husband knew something was wrong so he followed me. I sat on the bed and got back up then sat down again. I walked out into the living room and my husband asking what was wrong. I just kept saying I didn’t know. About the time I got the second "I don’t know" out of my mouth, I collapsed on the floor. My husband hurried and called 911. Praise God we lived right down the road from the fire station at the time. 

From that point on I remember things like you would if you were watching a dream or a movie while you’re sleepy. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I remember sitting on the couch and grabbing my sister in laws leg and digging my fingernails into her. I remember seeing my daughter's face as I collapsed and hearing her screaming in the hallway asking if I was dying. I will never as long as I live forget her little voice and the look of fear on her face. I remember the EMTs getting there and talking to me. They tried to get me to walk to the ambulance but I couldn’t. I collapsed on the sidewalk and they had to put me on the bed and roll me the rest of the way.

When I got into the ambulance they gave me a shot and asked if it helped, it didn’t. By that time I was in so much pain I couldn’t think. Then I began to black out. It was like if you’re looking in a tunnel and things are slowly going black with the picture getting smaller and smaller at the end of it. I could hear the EMT lady yelling my name and then suddenly my eyes rolled back in my head and I began to shake.  When I came to they were rushing me through the emergency room doors and there were nurses and doctor everywhere. I was having people shove things in my mouth and giving me shots and asking questions. They cut my clothes off me.

The doctor that I had seen when I had to stay a few days before rushed into the room. I was then rushed into the cath lab. I was put to sleep and it was while they were doing the catheter that my arteries finished dissecting from my heart. Because they couldn’t do it at that hospital, they rushed me to the north side where I had open heart surgery. I had a triple bypass and two stints placed. Before I was taken back, my husband and my dad and my husband's aunt and uncle got to see me. I don’t remember, but later my husband told me that I prayed for the doctors and I prayed for everyone.

When I woke up I didn’t know where I was and I was trying to pull the breathing tube out of my mouth. My sister was next to me and had to stop me. The nurse and my mom and sister were telling me that I had to leave the tube in my mouth and that I couldn’t talk. I signaled for a piece of paper and pencil. I still didn’t realize that I had had a heart attack and that I had to have heart surgery. When they handed me the pencil and paper I told them to get me out of that bed and to get me some food. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t do either for another four hours. My husband was very shocked when he walked in later and I was sitting up eating a bowl of soup.

That was a little over four years ago. My family and I have been through so much and then some since I came home. I’ve gone through postpartum and heart surgery depression, two pace maker /defibrillator surgeries, a lead revision surgery, I’ve gone through another cath and several medication changes. I’ve had to watch my daughter go through PTSD from seeing me have the heart attack. I know on the outside looking in someone might look at me and say, "Wow how do you do it?" I’ve had a lot of people ask me that. I tell them how could I not? I have a husband who is by my side and loves me and two children that God has blessed me with.
The Lord has blessed me with every single day that I’m alive. I want to help other women who have gone through what I have. I want to educate women on SCAD and let them know that if this happens to them they are not alone. There are days when I can’t do a lot. Those are the days when we just hang out. I will never give up .I will never stop living and sharing the blessings that God has given me. Now four and a half years later I can honestly say that this heart attack has turned into a blessing.

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Comments (1)

  • I''m Malenda''s Mom and I just want to add that Malenda was a very Healthy and energetic child when she was growing up. She has always taken very good care of herself. She''s always been active. She''s never been a smoker or abused herself with drugs or alcohol. She''s the last person that we ever expected to have a heart attack. We were very shocked when her husband called us and told us what was going on when she was admitted into the hospital the first time and they thought she had cardiomyopathy and then when she had the heart attack it was totally shocking. I thank God for blessing her with a wonderful  and very talented surgeon and doctors and nurses who have taken care of her. I hope that her story helps others to recognize the signs of a heart attack and to realize that it can happen to anyone. - Teresa Merrick

    — Teresa M.

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