Shannon Hennig is a small business owner and marketing expert for health and wellness.
During the summer, she began to experience severe fatigue, stiffness in her feet and legs, and chest pain and difficulty breathing. She tested negative for COVID-19, and was rejected in the ER after being told she had a cold in her chest.
In September, the 34-year-old was hospitalized for six days and was diagnosed with congenital heart failure, a condition that primarily affects people aged 50 and up.
Hennig realized that she was preoccupied with work, family and worries about COVID-19, and she had overlooked her own physical well-being and pushed the symptoms aside as nothing serious.
Hennig is now working to improve his health, and warns other working mothers to check in more often to avoid making the same mistake.
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In early 2020, I was a busy 34-year-old entrepreneur and working mom, living with my husband and son in Calgary, Canada. I had spent the last five years developing a consultant-side concert into a thriving full-time business, working with practitioners in the health and wellness industry on branding and marketing.
I had a lot to be proud of. During the first year, I received over six income, and I was easily on my way to doing the same in 2020. I had big plans to scale, build a more efficient sales funnel and hire a team to support me.
My goal was to increase revenue by building a signature program for private clients, while expanding my approach to small business owners through an online training and coaching program. I was hoping to start working with hundreds of new customers.
One day in early September, I woke up at 4:30 with a peculiar gargle in my chest.
It sounded and felt like the kind of thing you get when you fight for a bad cold in your chest.
All summer I had felt more worn out and more tired than ever before. I had had cold and flu-like symptoms since July and had gained 12 pounds the previous two weeks. My legs and feet were constantly swollen and stiff, and I had a noticeable shortness of breath when I went up my stairs.
I described my husband’s fatigue level as almost “mobile level”, and there seemed to be nothing to cheat or take it easy to alleviate my fatigue.
None of these symptoms made sense to me when I was active, ate a healthy diet and had lost 55 pounds during the year before. During the quarantine due to COVID-19, I had prioritized my health as best I could and thought I was doing well.
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I did my best to navigate the reality of the pandemic and what it meant for my business, along with the challenge to my husband and I homeschooling our 6-year-old.
My busy daily routine began to affect my business in a big way. I no longer had time to use client work and struggled with deadlines that under normal circumstances would never have been a problem. I also had no idea where to find time to teach my son.
When I talked to peers and clients, it seemed like everyone had the same low-level anxiety and fatigue that I had. It was not as if I was alone and unique in the physical and mental strain of juggling all the balls, so I pushed my health to the side.
My time was streamed to create my dreams, but I still did not realize that the lack of balance between work and private life was not sustainable.
Fast forward to that morning in September, and I knew I needed help. I had already been tested for COVID-19 and the results were negative, despite the fact that my symptoms were consistent with those associated with the virus. I had even been to the emergency department 10 days earlier and complained about the same problems, along with coughing up small amounts of blood, but was sent home and told that I had a cold in my chest.
When I saw my blood pressure rise to lethal levels and my ability to breathe diminished, I was diagnosed.
The doctor told me that I had pulmonary edema, a condition in which my lungs were filled with fluid, and that I had heart failure.
I was there. A 34-year-old woman who sat alone in the emergency department because COVID-19 visit restrictions did not allow my husband to be with me, and was told that right now, at this very moment, my heart failed and I died.
What followed was a whirlwind of emergency treatment to open my blood vessels, reduce my heart and get oxygen into my body. An IV stream of heparin, a blood thinner and nitroglycerin (a drug that helps relax blood vessels and allow blood to flow more easily to the heart) stabilized me before I was moved to the cardiac intensive care unit.
I was hospitalized for six days, where I was told that my heart was pumping at less than half the volume it was supposed to. Further diagnostics showed that the main cause was high blood pressure which had been uncontrolled for too long.
When I agreed with my diagnosis, I immediately turned to Google to find out more about what I was up against, and I was amazed to see that the symptoms of heart failure mimic many of COVID-19, including shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, fatigue and weakness, and persistent cough and chest pain. I continued to learn that heart failure can also lead to rapid weight gain from fluid retention, coughing up blood and swelling in the legs, ankles and feet.
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I had had symptoms of heart failure over the summer, but I was too busy with my business and worried about COVID-19 to think about something else.
After a round of tests including an echocardiogram and a cardiac MRI, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening or thickening of the heart muscle to the point that it cannot pump blood properly.
When not treated with medication, stress management, nutrition and exercise, it can develop into advanced heart failure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cardiomyopathy is often undiagnosed, but as many as 1 in 500 adults in the United States can live with the condition. When not treated with medication, stress management, nutrition and exercise, it can develop into advanced heart failure.
I knew I had to reconsider all aspects of my life if I was to move on.
The stress of ownership, motherhood and COVID-19 had pushed me to the brink of complete collapse. I had many of the risk factors for cardiomyopathy, but had no idea that this disease could affect anyone my age with such fatal consequences.
Since my diagnosis, I have made changes to better balance my work and family responsibilities and be more in line with what my body is trying to tell me. To other busy working parents during this time, I encourage you to check in with your own physical and mental health just as you do with your loved ones so that you do not miss a life-threatening diagnosis like I almost did.
Shannon Hennig is a freelance writer and professional marketer in health and wellness. She is the president of OpenInk Solutions, a company that helps health and wellness professionals build their personal brands and become thought leaders in industries. Follow her on Twitter.
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