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Heart attack at 51 a wake-up call 

Shelley Lipe

Shelley Lipe

Something was very wrong, but Shelley Lipe didn’t have time to figure out what. Her husband was busy selling the family business, her then-12-year-old twins were headed to science camp, and she had decided to go along.

Her head hurt, her chest ached, and the antibiotics she had taken weren’t helping. Still, she accompanied her kids on hikes, sometimes twice a day. In between, she took Tylenol, guzzled Gatorade, and lay down in her cabin, where she broke out in a cold sweat. She brushed it off, thinking she had just overdone the activity.

The next week, she and her husband hosted their daughter’s softball barbecue. As the evening wore on, she felt worse and worse, finally slipping into her bedroom, where she became violently ill for three hours. Her chest and back ached; she was certain she had the flu.

Her girlfriend suggested she get to the hospital, where she could rehydrate, take something for pain and nausea, relax. She was reluctant. When her daughter said, “Mom, I’ve seen this on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ You’re having a heart attack,” she finally agreed to go to the hospital.

Once she sat down in the waiting room of the Emergency Department at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, she felt better, said she was fine. But an electrocardiogram (EKG) test of her heart’s electrical activity told a different story: Lipe, only 51, was in the midst of a massive heart attack.

“They rushed me to the cath lab, where they inserted a balloon in my artery to increase blood flow,” she says. “The heart attack was so hard on my body; they couldn’t even operate until three days later. I ended up having triple-bypass surgery. I’m still in shock; I didn’t think I was unhealthy.”

Before her heart attack, Lipe led a fairly active lifestyle, working as a school health aide, keeping up with her twins, and enjoying family bicycle rides. She also had smoked intermittently since her teens, had fairly high stressors, and was not following a regular exercise program. She admits she tended to put the care of others before herself, until the heart attack last May changed everything.

After recovering from surgery by Community Hospital’s Tyler Heart Institute team, she participated in the hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program at Montage Wellness Center.

“I started with an arm bicycle and walking on the treadmill, plus classes to learn more about cardiac health,” she says. “I also told myself, while still in the hospital, that smoking was the biggest mistake of my life. I quit, right then and there, for good.”

Today, Lipe is paying attention to her eating habits and creating a regular exercise routine. She takes medication to manage her heart rate and cholesterol. And, she’s creating a better balance of self-care and family care.

“I can’t imagine what my husband and children were dealing with during my ordeal,” she says. “I’m so grateful God watched over me. Today, I’m very active and busy with my twins, who are keeping me alive and happy. I’m grateful to be here to celebrate every holiday and every milestone. And I’m looking forward to getting back to those bike rides with my husband and kids along the coast. I love my life.”

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