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Last February, aside from my research assistant responsibilities for The Times of Northwest Indiana, I'd planned a Valentine presentation for Feb. 14 at the Dyer Historical Society. A member of the National Valentine Collectors Association since 2009, I am fascinated with "things of the heart," their history, mystery, and messages.

Not the least of my fascination is with my own heart and cardiac health.

My lifestyle is built on good eating habits and activity levels. At 67, my diet included low-fat dairy, fresh fruits and veggies, lean meat and occasionally fish. Workouts four or five times a week included an elliptical stepper, strength training, Nordic walking and yoga at Purdue University Northwest's fitness center. It was paying off: my labs were good by most standards — cholesterol, 160; HDL, 60; and LDL, 86. And yet, something was wrong.

For several weeks, I had been experiencing what I thought was "indigestion" or "heartburn." A couple colleagues who knew about the symptoms questioned my self-diagnosis, and even my spouse reminded me the antacid tablets that were my constant companions called for a doctor's visit if symptoms persisted more than two weeks. I scheduled the appointment for Feb. 17.

But on the night of Feb. 12, waves of "indigestion" kept me awake. I paced, all the while praying that the fiery, burning sensation in my chest would cease. At 4:30 a.m. Feb. 13, my heart began to flutter. Hardly "indigestion," my heart was in distress. I woke my husband, and we were off to the hospital—green lights all the way (thank you, God). The trip took less than 4 minutes from driveway to Emergency Department at Community Hospital in Munster.

Once there, I was relieved to describe my distress to a very caring staff, including Dr. Ioannis Xenidis, a cardiologist with CardioSpecialists. My chest pain was now excruciating at times; even labor and childbirth were not this bad. It was comforting to have so many more folks to help. I remember feeling very much at peace.

My vitals were monitored, scans were done and, after some lab work, I was told there was a 98 percent blockage in an artery, and I would be visiting the cath lab in the afternoon to have two stents placed. When the procedure was done, I remember thanking Dr. Joaquin Gonzales emphatically, the interventional cardiologist who performed the surgery, saying the pain was gone!

The next day, Dr. Xenidis and I discussed my by-all-accounts normal lipid levels. He explained that though my numbers were within medical standards, my body's standards were obviously different. The numbers needed adjusting. Blood thinners and cholesterol lowering medications were prescribed. I kept that Feb. 17 appointment with my internist, Dr. Rebecca Galante of Community Care Internal Medicine, overjoyed to update her.

After six weeks of cardiac rehab, I was cleared to go back to the gym and add some stationary biking, treadmill and rowing machines to keep it interesting. An additional brisk walk along the bike path near my home and standing instead of sitting to do various tasks also became part of the routine. I returned to work Feb. 22, just nine days after entering the hospital.

My eating habits have stayed pretty much the same, substituting salmon for lean red meat more frequently and adding almonds, pecans and walnuts — good fats — to the mix. I continue to read labels for sodium and fat content and heap on the fruits and veggies. Not only have I dropped 12 pounds, but my numbers have gone from good to very good (Cholesterol, 138; HDL, 61; and LDL, 61).

I'm happy and grateful to report my heart's history, mystery, and messages are all in order. Oh, and that Valentine presentation is back on — for Feb. 20 this year.

Pat Kincaid recently retired from her job as researcher for The Times.

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