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Health Care
Healthy Lifestyle
Personal Finance
Your Financial Life
By Don Mitchell / Sep 6, 2016

Heart Failure in Your 40s? It Can Happen

22987_TLPBDMHS0916_HeartStory_1024x438 At 46, Transamerica’s Susan Harris was fatigued and constantly out of breath, but she shrugged off the symptoms.

The happily married mother of one attributed her condition to the aggressive boot camp classes she was attending.

But when her daughter became ill and needed to visit an urgent care center, Susan’s husband demanded his wife also make an appointment for herself.

It’s a good thing she did.

After taking a stress test, Susan received some unbelievable news.

Her heart was failing.

“I will never forget the doctor telling me he wouldn’t see me without a family member present,” she said. “He told me my heart was operating far below what it should be.”

The doctor believed a virus had attacked Susan’s heart, so he checked for blockage and prescribed medication. Unfortunately, her condition worsened.

“I was still in denial,” Susan said. “The doctor told me I could gamble and not do anything, or I could make sure I get to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding someday.”

She chose to have surgery to implant a pacemaker around Thanksgiving in 2011.

Aside from her manager at Transamerica and family, Susan didn’t tell many friends or coworkers what had happened.

“I was worried that management would think I could not do my job and didn’t want people to know about my situation,” she said.

Things improved after surgery, but only for a short time.

“That following summer (2012), I noticed I was once again getting tired and having difficulty doing my daily activities,” Susan said.

The doctor ordered more tests and changed medications, but it was ultimately determined the pacemaker was no longer helping.

“I started going downhill again,” Susan explained. “The doctor said he was worried about my heart stopping.”

In the spring of 2013, Susan had another operation, this time to implant a device that acts like a pacemaker and defibrillator in her chest.

“It was a much more intensive surgery,” she said, noting she took a leave of absence from Transamerica and didn’t try to hide her situation the second time. “I had a strong support system, and my management was wonderful.”

Today, Susan is doing much better.  She is currently a senior leader in Learning and Development and oversees training for the contact center and post-issue for Transamerica’s annuity, retirement, life, and health business.

Though she’ll never get back to her grueling workouts, she enjoys doing Pilates regularly.

“This is a daily struggle,” she said. “I know my limits. I’m not happy with them, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Susan said the experience has helped her entire family put life and priorities into perspective.

“The biggest thing for us, it was a wake-up call,” she said. “Before, we were always going from one thing to the next and constantly on the run. Now we enjoy life more, take time, and we don’t take things for granted.”

To support its customers, advisors, and brave employees like Susan, Transamerica recently partnered with the American Heart Association® (AHA) to promote heart-healthy lifestyles and eating habits as being important to achieving a healthy financial outlook.

The company sponsored a walk in Denver in June and is sponsoring walks in Dallas (Sept. 10), Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Sept. 11), Baltimore (Oct. 8), and Tampa (Nov. 12). You can find a walk near you by visiting the AHA website.

Susan believes this partnership will help spread awareness, and she encourages people to get involved and make sure they listen to their bodies.

“I had a life, like everyone does,” she said, referring to her husband, her daughter and the teen’s busy soccer schedule, and work. “I found a lot of reasons to explain (my symptoms), but not the right ones.”

Fortunately, she took action when she did.

“Had my husband not pushed me to get medical attention, I probably would have gone about my business until something bad happened,” Susan said.

“Pay attention to the warning signs,” she advised. “Until it happens to you, you don’t realize that it can happen to anyone.”