KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but all the stresses of the season also mean it’s the No. 1 week for heart attacks.
Julie Rickman and her son are spending time volunteering this holiday season. They’re sorting handmade caps that will be a gift to newborns from the American Heart Association. It’s an organization close to Julie’s heart after a sobering experience seven years ago.
“Two days before Christmas I noticed that I was having difficulty breathing,” Rickman said.
She convinced herself her allergies and asthma were acting up and went so far as to take down the family’s live Christmas tree, replacing it with an artificial one.
“That particular year, where Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, it was the most stressful time of the year for me," Rickman said. "We celebrated six Christmases with every activity that was out there for a three-year-old, and I just got caught up in the moment. I was trying to be super mom."
When Christmas came and went and she started having breathing problems again, her sister took her to the emergency room.
“The ER doctor asked me about family history," Rickman said. "When she found out my father died from an aneurysm at age 44, she decided to admit me and make sure my heart was OK."
After a battery of tests, it turned out her heart wasn’t OK.
“They found two blockages in the heart," she said. "At some time in that crazy month of December, I had a silent heart attack."
Rickman now realizes she’d gotten so wrapped up trying to have the perfect Christmas, and her heart couldn’t handle the stress. These days, she follows a healthy eating and exercise plan and keeps the holiday season much calmer.
“I feel like I got a second chance at life, and I'm going to take advantage of it,” she said.
Shawnee Mission Health Cardiologist Heath Wilt said heart problems are much more common at Christmas, but there’s plenty we can all do to avoid a trip to the hospital.
“Try not to over emphasize changes that go along with the holiday season like dietary changes and lack of exercise," he said. "Set aside time for yourself. Stay on your medications. Stay with the game plan."
So yes, you can have a cookie. Just don’t overdo it. And if you notice any changes with your body, call your doctor to get it checked out and make sure it’s not something serious.