At first Ellen Daeo thought it was just “uncomfortable indigestion.” She’d had barbecue the night before at her son’s game in Joplin, Missouri before driving home to Omaha. She popped some antacids and waited for the discomfort to go away.
It didn’t. “I never got to feeling better,” she said.
So Deao drove to the emergency department at Alegent Creighton Health Bergan Mercy Medical Center, something she admits now she shouldn’t have done. She should have called 911. She was having a heart attack.
At Bergan Mercy, she was rushed to the cardiac catheterization lab, where a specialized cardiologist and a team of cardiovascular nurses and technicians performed an angioplasty, a non-surgical procedure to open blocked heart arteries. “It happened so fast I had little time to process it or have a reaction,” she said.
Physicians placed a stent , a small metal mesh tube, to hold open her artery. But her interventional cardiologist, Ruby Satpathy, M.D., determined she needed more—so Deao underwent a quintuple bypass.
Deao described herself as “overweight and active” at the time of her heart attack. There was also a family history of heart problems--her father had his first heart attack when he was 39. “I came out of the heart attack knowing I had to lose weight,” she said. But she didn’t set a goal for the scale. “I just said, ‘My body will know.’”
Deao began cardiac rehabilitation at Alegent Creighton Health Lakeside Hospital and met with a dietician. “They were my motivators,” she said. “I was beating myself up and they told me, ‘Don’t live your life in the rearview mirror.” The cardiac team also emphasized—“lifestyle changes,”—instead of a diet.
”They were great with giving me information to help me and they were amazingly encouraging,” she said. The pounds started to fall off. Deao started with 30 minutes a day of activity at cardiac rehab and she kept walking outside of rehab. Her two-and-a-half mile walks every day progressed to four-mile runs. Now she’s up to four to six miles every single day.
In the months after her heart attack, Deao learned portion control. She ate lots of fruits and vegetables. “I didn’t deprive myself of anything,” she said. “Especially foods I love.” She still ate cookies—but just one. She still baked at home, but then gave it away. She had a few bites of dessert when she was out to dinner but then “it stayed at the restaurant.” She ate nuts but counted them. She watched her sodium intake and learned how to replace salt with healthy seasonings.
She lost 150 pounds.
Three years after her heart attack—Deao’s weight is holding steady. “I’m always concerned about going back,” she said. “It’s too easy to let yourself slide.”
Her advice to anyone who wants to lose weight or become healthier: Commit to change. Believe you can do it. Don’t look in the rearview mirror. Don’t make long range goals, just focus on another day of healthy eating.
And get a good support group. Her husband, four children and co-workers at Alegent Creighton University Medical Center, where she’s worked for 33 years and is currently the interim operations director for information technology, supported her throughout her weight loss . “The joke up here was ‘bring the treats,’” she said. “’And bring the broccoli for Ellen.’”