BILLINGS - It was around Thanksgiving when Lori Helmey started having a hard time breathing.
Helmey is a breast cancer survivor and thought that pneumonia was the cause of her breathing troubles. But she started feeling worse, and a trip to the hospital revealed she would have to fight for her life a second time.
"They told me it wasn't pneumonia. It looked like it was something going on with my heart, which was totally news to me,” said Helmey. “I was admitted to the hospital that night and the next day had an echo-cardiogram and was told my heart was functioning at about 15 to 20 percent."
Helmey had a family history of congestive heart failure, and her doctors said it was possible her chemo treatments could have been a factor in her heart failure, but at just 50 years old she was not expecting the diagnosis.
"The signs of congestive heart failure will typically start with fatigue, exercise intolerance, not being able to do the things that we used to be able to do,” said Dr. Sarosh Janjua, a cardiologist at St. Vincent Healthcare.
Janjua said because of the nature of the symptoms, often associated with menopause, she sees many women ignore some of the early signs of heart failure.
"With congestive heart failure in particular, unless it is caught early, a lot of damage can happen,” said Janjua. “Not just to your heart, but all the organs that your heart supplies with blood. I encourage women not to ignore the signs and sort of not brush it under the rug like we all know we tend to."
Janjua said if symptoms become persistent, that is a cause for concern. She said even if it doesn’t seem like much, take the time to have it checked out because it could save your life.
Helmey said she is thankful she went to the emergency room when she did, and encourages everyone to do the same if they feel something is wrong. Her heart is improving and she is adjusting to life with a new fight in front of her.
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