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Published on February 07, 2014

Janie’s story

GoRed

Going red for women and heart disease 

Community Hospital is holding its annual Go Red tree-lighting at sunset today, Friday, February 7 to draw attention to heart disease in women. 

Special guest Janie Benjamin will flip the switch to light the tree in Community Hospital’s entry plaza. 

Join us at 5:30 p.m. today, February 7th in the entry plaza at Community Hospital, 23625 Holman Highway, Monterey.

(If there is rain we will move inside to area overlooking the entry plaza.)

Janie Benjamin

Janie Benjamin

For 20 years, Janie Benjamin took care of the parents she loved and held down the job she adores as assistant general manager at Costco. The only one she forgot to care for was herself.

Her father, 93 and becoming steadily less mobile, had spent the last three years in a wheelchair. Her mother, 90, had lived with dementia for 10 years. Both had high blood pressure, which they kept under control with a low-salt diet and medication. And then last year, after 68 years of marriage, her beloved parents died within 45 days of one other.

“When I was cooking for my parents,” Benjamin says, “I was careful about what I served. But after they passed, I started eating out of the box or buying fast food or skipping meals altogether. And I was barely sleeping at all. When you’re taking care of others or you go through a loss like that, you don’t really think about yourself.”

Five months after her parents died, her mother’s best friend and neighbor across the street, who had taken care of Benjamin when she was small, someone she cared deeply about, also died.

“Then it all hit me,” says Benjamin, “and I got extremely sick. I got taken down, and it scared me. It started with trouble breathing. I couldn’t lie down to sleep without feeling like I was drowning. My body started swelling; I couldn’t put on my shoes. I felt tired all the time.”

Thinking her symptoms were simply physical responses to the emotions behind all she had been through, Benjamin just tried to stay the course a couple more weeks until her scheduled vacation. That “vacation” began on October 22, when she ended up in Community Hospital, diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“My doctor had thought it was a respiratory infection, but as I got sicker, he referred me to cardiologist Dr. Richard Gerber, who admitted me to the hospital right away. I had fluid in my lungs, and my heart was enlarged and functioning at 23 percent. I also had a couple of hernias and a growth in my abdomen, which I hadn’t paid attention to. On Halloween, my favorite holiday, I had surgeries performed on both problems to help my recovery.”

Halloween is still Benjamin’s favorite holiday, but for a new reason: It’s the start of a new era in her life. Released from Community Hospital on November 4, as soon as she was ready, she began Community Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation, located at the Peninsula Wellness Center campus in Marina. She stopped eating “out of the box” and went back to cooking her own fresh food, and watching portion control. Benjamin has lost 45 pounds, and her heart is pumping at 40 percent of capacity.

“This is something I should have been doing all along,” she says. “It helps that I feel lighter, easier, different, and I have more energy. And mostly, I just feel happy.”