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She did not fit the mold for someone with heart disease. It took four years, four blockages and four stents before she was diagnosed with a myocardial bridge in 2019. In that same year on in December of 2019, she had open heart surgery and she is now advocating for women's heart. Michelle is a community educator for Women Heart, the National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, and she's also a single mom of a 12 year old daughter.A social chair. . And on top [:
Thanks again for tuning in today, and if you'd like what you hear, I'd appreciate it. If you would subscribe, leave a review and donate at www the heart chamber podcast.com. Thanks so much. Let's dive in.
Thank you, Michelle for joining today on the Heart Chamber.
Michelle and I first met on Facebook thanks to the Facebook support group, and Michelle is gonna share her story of herheart journey [:
Michelle Sheely: Oh, thank you so much. Boots for having me. Any chance that I get to spread the word on heart disease and help anybody who might be going through the things that we've gone through or has questions? I'm always here for, you know, peer support and really just getting the education out there because I don't want people to suffer like I did.tell you what happened. So in:
Well, they did an A P E K G, and it was completely normal. they gave me some Pepcid and told me to [00:03:00] go home. Two days later, I have police knocking on my door and when I asked why, they said, are, is Dr. Reddy your doctor? And I said, yes. And the woman, the police officer said, Dr. Reddy has been trying to get ahold of you for two days, and she ca you have not called her back.
Your EKG is not normal and they need you to give them a call within an hour. I was in the er. . And, the next day I had a heart calf to find out that I was almost a hundred percent blocked in my l a d artery. So I got my first stent. okay, so from there I dropped 40 pounds. I was even you know, stepping up even more with exercise and diet.ation, to fix, you know, the [:
Two weeks after the cardiac ablation, I'm in heart attack symptoms again. I have another blocked artery, so I get another stent. And this is not supposed to be happening because my cholesterol, total cholesterol is like a 70. Now. Like I said, I'm a plant-based vegan. I'm doing all the right things, and we we're just going, I said, what is going on?
And so, You know, I'm back in the er, six months later and for chest pain again, I mean, this is all heart attack symptoms and. My L a d artery is blocked, and this will be the third step that I have to get in it. But luckily I got a new doctor from Stanford who had just come over to our hospital and he said, you know, I think there's something more going on.
I wanna look further into this. And so when he went in with the heart cath again, he goes, oh, has anybody ever told you you have a myocardial bridge? And. I had no idea what that was. And
so they sent me to Stanford.u know, For further testing. [:
Snicker, look, I want the bridge study and here's the reason. I know that my l a d artery has is occluding by 7% a month on average. That is the average, that it is occluded three times. You cannot do bypass graft surgery on an artery that is, you know, in the heart, muscle it, it won't work. And you know that and you know that.
And so what's happening is this is gonna be a race against time. I'm going to be occluded and then, . So what I don't know what to do because I'm either going to die or I'm going to be able to have open heart surgery to unroof my artery and that is going to help. And she said, okay. I said, but we don't know because we can't really tell be if I, we don't have the bridge study.know what, Michelle? If you [:
your artery's going to collapse and there'll be nothing we can do for you.
Boots Knighton: Wow,
Michelle Sheely: yes, it was, it was very profound. And this is where self-advocacy is so important because I read on, you know, the Myocardial Bridge group, and, and this isn't isolated to the Myocardial Bridge Group. This is heart disease everywhere, especially in women.
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.
Michelle Sheely: You know, we don't need these surgeries, you don't need this.unroof surgery in December of:
So it's been a stressful recovery. It's been a, definitely a difficult recovery. but, you know, I finally got running again. I'm. Decided to, I'm no longer running. I'm walking now,
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.
Michelle Sheely: my bike, hiking, those kind of things. I can finally do those, but I'm definitely not where I was before. I had heart surgery, but what was happening was because I was
an avid runner and running so much and getting my heart rate over, know, 150 beats per minute is
I was actually doing more damage to my artery than.
Boots Knighton: is that because of the stints
that were in place?dge, you get turbulent blood [:
so I mean that's the metaphor that I can, or the analogy that I can use for that, is that irritation was happening. And so it's almost like a Turkey baster was taking that plaque and that buildup. and pushing it above the l a d artery were, because it was just like a few centimeters, a above where the artery is, was, is no longer in the myocardium where it would get occluded.he artery, comes out of, of, [:
So ever since I was little, I always had pins and needles in my feet, really cold feet. I just thought my coloring was my coloring. But my mom said when she saw me
in the hospital after I had been un roof, She said, my God, you have color
in your face. She had never seen color in my face,
Boots Knighton: remind me and the audience how old you were when you had your Unroof surgery.
Michelle Sheely: I was 47.
So this all started when I was 44. I'm 50 now. So yeah. So from 44 to 47,
it definitely. That long to find, so three to
four years people, they were to find the correct diagnosis for me.inform me. so I could better [:
Michelle Sheely: Well.
Boots Knighton: so much needless
Michelle Sheely: It it is. But I'll tell you the reason why it takes that long. And one of the reasons is, and this is one of the questions, is being that I am a community educator for Women Heart, who's the National Coalition of Women with Heart Disease. We do training at the Mayo Clinic, at the Women's Heart Health, um, heart Center, um, with Dr.
Sharon Hayes, and she is the head of the Women's Heart Clinic. And so we do an extensive training on all types of women's heart. , and I asked her about this. I said, why? And I, and I asked the interventionist as well, I, and these are all women who have w work with women patients. I why does it take so long to get that diagnosis?sing the issues because. For [:
So that's why it takes, they said it takes so long to really, for those who have to get unroofed and they're that. Because they, they, they're not just, you know, when they decide to have open you up and have open heart surgery to unroof. I mean, that is after they've exhausted all possible options and we know it's a def it's definitely a tough surgery.
I mean, if I had to do it again, obviously I would cuz I needed to. But if there was an alternative, I definitely would've taken the alternative.
but that's what they were telling me was that is why. It's they have to rule out everything else before. , you know, cause they can't say for sure that it is the myocardial bridge.
There's just so many tests and so many things that they have to run to make, to make sure that that is the correct thing because that is the last possible
option, ismean, I had basically three [:
I don't know the exact centimeters, but it was the equivalent of about three inches
Boots Knighton: That is
Michelle Sheely: Yeah. It, it was severe. That's why they said,
when Dr. Schicker came out of the bridge, of the bridge study, she said,
it's much longer than we thought. And it's a little bit deeper than we thought. And I said,
Boots Knighton: And I hear that too, like.
Most people are, know, but the heart cath and the heart CT can only tell you but so much. And most of the time when people come outta surgery, they're told it was way, way more
significant than originally believed.
Michelle Sheely: Oh, absolutely. And I went in and I. my surgeon, who was fabulous, who worked with Dr. Snicker, um, and Dr. Boyd did, you know, probably like 500 in Roofings, you know, before he went to our hospital. And that's one of the reasons they hired him, was to come over and kind of perform these rare heart surgeries.them go, he showed it to me [:
Crazy how the artery, once it's unroof, just starts filling with blood. It's just, I
wish I had that video cuz it was pretty profound.
Boots Knighton: Wow. So did you, did the stints stay in
Michelle Sheely: Yes. So I have three stents in my l a d. Um, I mean, they're not gonna come out. Can't take 'em out. Um, and I mean, just, I've had multiple scans. multiple treadmill tests. I've had a, a few heart cats, no, a couple of heart cats since my Unroof surgery. and it's because I've had so many post-surgery. I have pretty severe vaso spasms and so I had one day where I just had round the clock Faso spasms.are heart disease. I do have [:
A certain cocktail of medication will work for a while and then it won't, and then we have to adjust and hope that that something else works. But things are go going really well. Now I have a good cocktail of medication that's working and has been working probably for the last four months, but just to give you some context, I was having.
Vasospasms probably once every one to two weeks that I
would have to take like two nitroglycerin tablets for them to go away. The episodes would last about a half
I, it's been about four months since I've had one.
Boots Knighton: that sounds really
one. Vaso spasm friend to another. Ouch.nd this is living with heart [:
Dr. Nadiri, she's a female heart specialist. She specializes
in rare women's heart diseases and
Boots Knighton: is she
Michelle Sheely: She's in Cal, in
Northern California. She's at Kaiser Permanente. So I had Kaiser and we call Kaiser Santa Clara, like Stanford South because they pool all of their doctors and surgeons from Stanford. And Dr. Nadiri works with U C S F Stanford, she's well known throughout the country. And even Dr. Hay is at the Mayo Clinic.
you know, in Rochester was like, oh, you have Dr. Naira, you're in very good hands. And she told me, look, as women age and they have vasos spasms, they with, when you change and you're going, going through perimenopause or menopause, these things tend to ramp up and then they tend to level off afterwards. She said.alk, talk to your ob gyn and [:
So she's given me progesterone to level it out and That's when I stopped having vasospasms
Boots Knighton: So did you start the Progess Pro? ? That's so hard to say. Progesterone at four months ago.
Michelle Sheely: Yep. And it has nothing, nothing to do with heart disease. Right? It's a birth control. It's a birth control thing. But I said, when I'm biohacking my way through this and I talked to Dr. Naira and I said, I know that my heart disease. , there's never gonna be a cure, and I know there's never gonna be a cure because it costs hundreds of millions of dollars to do research.t that's coming from private [:
So you have to really figure out what's going to work for you. And that's what I know I have to do. And my doctor said I'm, you know, I hate to say this, Michelle, but I'm glad you realize that because your issue is so rare. That
they're not gonna find a cure for you. You've just gotta figure out
how you're gonna manage it and live with it.
Boots Knighton: Whew. That's. I mean, in one way, you know, go us for being advocates and standing in our power, right? Like no matter if there's a cure or not, we, we still are powerful beings and we, our bodies can tell us what it need, what the body needs at the same time. That's kind of depressing.
That's just the state of the healthcare[:
Michelle Sheely: it's the state of
system in, in America. And it's, and I wanna say it's kind of the state of the healthcare system. I mean, in many different pl parts of the world too, because,
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.
Michelle Sheely: There's just not enough. There's just not enough knowledge about myocardial bridges and what we go through.
And thank goodness that Dr. Snicker is doing more research and more research is coming to light, and they're showing that there are more problems, you know? But I always get this, this is the famous quote. From doctors that that medicine's not supposed to do that. That's not a side effect of the medicine cuz I'll take certain medications and I'll have a vasospasm.
Like I took a steroid medication, for a gut issue that I had and boom, I started getting vasospasms again and I stopped it. And then I didn't get vasospasms and I said I had a vasospasm, my body's reacting to it. And they said that, well, that's not a side effect. I said, of course it's not a side effect.ir trials. They have healthy [:
a congenital abnormality of the heart that is a form of heart.
You have to find what works
for you, whether it's auric
medicine, holistic medicine, I always said Western medicine will save me.
Eastern medicine will sustain me.
Boots Knighton: Ooh,
I'm gonna steal that.
Michelle Sheely: you have to find
what works for you because there is not going to be a cure.
And if there is going to be a cure, it's probably not going to. for 20, 30 years, , it's gonna be a long time from now. So there's a lot of time in between that we have to find out how to best manage our symptoms, how to manage our life. But for those individuals who are having symptoms being, you know, wondering if they should be en rof, having the bridge study wondering you.What [:
they are. You have a PhD in your body and your own body. You know how your body works and you know, they're, they're making guesses as well from their internal Rolodex of what they know from medical school and in medical school. We know that myocardial bridges are taught that they're benign. They are taught that sometimes, you know, now you know, it's finding now that they are
not benign in some parts, some population of the people that have them, however,
You know, there's, have you ever seen The Big Sick?
Boots Knighton: I haven't yet. That's on myse in that movie, there is a [:
They're winging it just as much as we are at work. And I, I had never heard a more true
statement because, I mean, yes, they have medical degrees and they, I mean, they're very smart and they know what they're doing and they, and they know how these, you know, the heart works and the body works, but you know, your body.
You know, what's normal and what's not normal, and you just have to push,
Boots Knighton: Yeah.
Michelle Sheely: and, if you need to get a new doctor, get a new doctor.
Boots Knighton: mm-hmm. , you know, and, and I think, I'm just thinking like, how can we instillstage in knowing their body [:
I mean, that just isn't something, you know, that we're taught unfortunately. I had already been through a couple of other health issues prior to my heart, so I had had a lot of practice. basically being able to check in with my own body and know that something wasn't right, but for, and also I am well educated and I have an undergraduate degree in biology, so you know, I, I kind of felt like I was one of the lucky ones that went into this with some.
Michelle Sheely: right, right.
Boots Knighton: how to like, you know, navigate the medical system. But what about those who, you know, this, this is their first health issue, or maybe they didn't have, they didn't go to college or they did, they majored in something not related to like the medical field. Like what do they
Michelle Sheely: I mean, how many times have we ever heard
a story of. Someone went to their doctormultiple times for [:
finally went to a different doctor and they had a tumor the
size of a grapefruit or, you know, I mean,
Boots Knighton: Too many times.
It's too many
Michelle Sheely: too many times.
and that's where you, in our culture, we've been taught that the doctors are like, we, we treat them as if they know everything.
So if they say, well, no, this is what you have. or they, they give you a diagnosis or something. We're taught not to question it, and I think it's really important that you think of the doctors in the medical community as part of your team. You are hiring your team. If I'm a sales manager, I'm hiring the best people for my sales team, and I'm going to have people who are collaborative and who work with me as a team and who listen.to the point where he said, [:
And, and he sent me to her, you know, he put his training aside to make sure that I got the best care. So I think it's, Push. I mean, just if they're not willing to look at other things, if you are still having issues and they're, and your doctors aren't willing to look at other things, it's time to revisit new doctors because.
I was in a class with 30 women. When we went to our Women Heart Symposium back in October. Every single woman was there because they, she advocated for herself. She was saved, and, and, and because she was an advocate for her own body, it wasn't the first time she went to the doctor. The second or the third time it was, she kept pushing.
Some of those women changed, doctors, got second opinions. So I mean, I, I would say that all the women who. were in that room and went to thatwrong with her body. I think [:
follow your gut if something's not right, it's not.
Boots Knighton: Well that's all great. And you know, just thinking about
my personal story, At first, I didn't wanna believe something was wrong cause I was in the best shape of my life. And, you know, newcomers to this podcast go back to episodes one and two to hear my story in depth. But I remember when I eventually landed in front of the first cardiologist I ever saw, he told me what he was gonna go looking for and hoped that he wasn't gonna find of any of it.
And the two things that he was looking for were myocardial.
and a bicuspid aortic valve. I end up having both
Michelle Sheely: Oh, wow.er, and told me just to take [:
I just didn't feel good about how he was treating me, but I had to let go of the authority of it all.
And I think that's what a lot of people, especially women, you know, there's like some authority there that just needs to go away. Like we are the authority of
Michelle Sheely: authority. You are the authority of your body.
Boots Knighton: Yep. Not the
doctor. the doctor might have an opinion,
Michelle Sheely: right.
And, that's why you have to, like I said, push.
And if you have to change the doctor, you have to change doctor. You gotta get a second opinion.was that I, so I was reading [:
Michelle Sheely: the same thing.
Boots Knighton: People usually don't read their reports, they just go.
You have to, and you might have to go to Google School and like look up terms and it's worth the time. Uh, hey, if anything, you're broadening your vocabulary.
Like what's wrong with that? Right? But go to me, go to, you know, Google Medical School, and teach yourself how to read these reports because. I read first about the myocardial bridge. Uh, the night that the report came in after my heart ct and I kept waiting for the doctor's office to call. He had his like nurse call me and say, you know, the, the doctor doesn't feel like anything's wrong.er, and here he's telling me [:
And so I, I preferred myself to Stanford. I asked him to refer me and he told me that that was inappropriate.
So I called Dr. Schnier myself, like that's what I had to do.
Michelle Sheely: and that's what, and that's what you have to do. You have to just say, move aside. I'm taking
Boots Knighton: you were fired.
Michelle Sheely: Yeah. It's okay to fire your doctor. It is a thousand percent. Okay. And to get another one, they are on your team. If somebody wasn't doing what you needed on your team to move you towards your goals, they would not be the right fit and you would get rid of them.
It is the same thing for your
Boots Knighton: Yeah.g journals out of like, like [:
And that's when I, I think when I told Dr. Snicker, look, I'm occluding at 7% a month on average. Based on, based on the data that I points that I've taken for myself, I think that really was like, oh, okay. You know, because they can respond to that. And if you collect your own data, I mean, I don't care if it's on your iPhone, in your notes, you whatever it is, have your own chart.
Create, create your own
spreadsheet that's going to get that, those numbers. If you can
give your doctor numbers, that's concrete data versus your feelings.
Boots Knighton: Wise words. Absolutely. And you know,
cuzh of the matter is they also [:
So, Totally respect that. They, they just, they need as much information as possible
and still it is, it is hard to put our gut feelings into data
Michelle Sheely: you're right, it is. But I was able to be like, okay, when I run, when I get my heart rate up to here, I start to feel dizzy. .
and I'm in shape. Like I should not be feeling dizzy. And you know, I w I was always wondering how come after I go on a run, I'm feeling dizzy, like when I'm cooling. Like it was just the oddest thing, right?g surgery, it did not fix my [:
I mean, they really are about the whole biochemistry of your body
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm.
Michelle Sheely: and also
it's just the whole biochemistry of your body, like your body has a memory and it's. I was working with therapists and acupuncturists, , and to really go back through and retrain my body because my body was like auto response of, okay, we have to have, our anxiety's gonna be raised now because there's a heart event.
But, so it's been actually taking me to do a lot of like therapeutical retraining of my body. Um, I don't take any anxiety medications. you know, they wouldn't give them to me when I wanted them, but, and that was good because I didn't want that to be a crutch either. Um, so it's just been a lot of therapy, a lot of meditation.tually go to a support group [:
I mean, it, this is,
it does, it's not just from heart disease, it's, it goes across, you know, any,
if you feel something's not right in your body, it's not.
Boots Knighton: right. And I think that's where social, you know, social media has been so helpful with a Facebook support group, but whatever for listeners today, no matter what, Condition you're struggling with, I bet you, you know, a hundred dollars, I'll give you a hundred dollarsm sure that there are people [:
I mean, that's why I started this podcast because even though I have such a wonderful network here and a loving husband, and my dad and my stepmom have been amazing. , it still can be a lonely process because heart surgery is so personal, it's touching your soul. It touches your essence and it's, it's hard to find comfort unless, like I just talking to you over video today.
Even though this is the first time we've met, like, oh, yay, I have another heart buddy
like you. We just get each other right.
Michelle Sheely: someone who gets It.
Boots Knighton: And that's what I want for listeners for this podcast. I, I, there's just so muchseems to relax a little bit [:
Michelle Sheely: Yes. And you know, then that's why Women Heart was founded was we wanted, we call it sister support and Sister Match, where if you are women with heart disease, we want to support you and we wanna get you a heart sister. Um, you know, we do red scarves we call it heart scarves, or we send out, we do red bags of courage.
We can't really go into the hospitals. Not all hospitals let us go. Anymore cuz the HIPAA laws and that kind of thing. But you know, we have a sister match. So Women Heart has been a great support for me. I have, I mean, I thought I had a you know, a, a crazy story, but there's this one woman that I was in my class with who had cardiac arrest and was flat line for 50 minutes and they continued to do.
C p r on her and the, the, the paramedics, you know, they were gonna call it in, in the fire department, and they're her fa, her, not her father. Hersaid, don't, this woman's a [:
back and that woman is a pistol .
Boots Knighton: Wow.
Michelle Sheely: so you need to have people,
fighting for you
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm. .Mm-hmm.
and. Great segue. I I want you to tell us more about Women Heart, and so Michelle, what is your, your role with Women
Michelle Sheely: So I'm a community educator, so I offer education to, you know, whatever community is out there. I generally talking about women, heart disease, heart disease, prevention, how to recognize signs of a heart attack or different types of heart disease and really, Get women who have heart disease issue or maybe live with somebody with heart disease or are at risk of heart disease, the resources they need, get them matched up with a
sister with a group.
You know, we do have community groups, you know, throughout the country andcation and support that they [:
Boots Knighton: That is incredible.
Michelle Sheely: living with heart disease, like you said, it's a lonely, it can be a very lonely and isolating process. Your family, even though they see you go through it, they can't really relate to what you're going through.
But those women and women heart, they can, because they've all been through it and they're all living with heart disease. You know, when I was going to the symposium, I said, you know, I don't know. I'm afraid to get on the plane. I might have a hard episode. They're like, if you have one here, it's okay.
At least everybody, somebody has one once here. He goes, this is what living with heart disease is all about. So I was about to go to a conference with women where I knew that I was going to be taken care of I had a heart issue and I was at the Mayo Clinic, so I was gonna be okay . but it is an amazing organization.
it's run, run by an amazing c e o. You know, it's all women and it's just a fabulous organization. And it's, yeah, women Heart, www.womenheart.org and you know, if anybody wanted to be a part of itwhatever part of the country [:
email me, I can help get you connected.
Boots Knighton: So is
that your full-time job?
Michelle Sheely: No, it's a ops volunteer. That's my vol one, that's one of my volunteer positions. , my full-time job is I, I work in the natural food industry, so I, um, I work in, for a org, an organic dairy company and all pasteurized organic dairy. Just absolutely wonderful. natural product, but one of the things that when I first got involved, you know, in helping educate people was I wanted to
teach people how to eat for heart disease, because when I was in my cardiac rehab class,
Yeah, a lot. A lot of people did not know how to eat healthy. They didn't know what choices to make. And it made me really sad because I'm so food centric. I've been in the food industry for years. We're all about connecting and sharing food and, and so I did have a page called the Happy Heart.w, almost a year and a half, [:
just advocating for organic dairy and, you know, getting dairy better for you.
better for the heart. into stores all across the country.
Boots Knighton: Incredible, Michelle. And lastly, I also know that you're a mom.
Michelle Sheely: Mm-hmm.
Boots Knighton: So here you are being a mom and managing your heart condition and. Just, I wanna normalize that for other listeners, other women who
are mom, friend, coworker, volunteer and managing heart symptoms. Like it's, it's, you know, juggling all the time.
Tell us what that's like.s there during my open heart [:
Cause it does affect the kids as well. But you know, my daughter's well, well versed in heart disease. She knows if mommy's having a vasospasm, she knows what to do.
You know, she even gets my nitroglycerin for me sometimes. you know, she really knows how to take care of me if I have those situations, you know, if I'm having an, what we call an episode.
it's been very hard on her. So helping kids manage through your heart disease is really important as well. but we definitely, you know, she's a kid that's grown up with a mom who's sick, and has had a life-threatening illness. And so that's been, that's actually been really hard on. But we are working through it
and she's also had her own therapy.
she'd be able to cope with having
a mom of a life-threatening illness and, and what that's like.
Boots Knighton: Mm-hmm. . That is really important and I, therapy for everyone involved I
think is very important.lped us both and yeah, I can [:
And letting them know that their feelings
are real and what they're going through is, and
that their feelings are okay, and
helping them work through those anxieties is really.
Boots Knighton: Wise advice. Michelle, thank you so much for coming onto the heart chamber. I, I feel like I've, I've made a new friend.
Michelle Sheely: Yes.
Boots Knighton: can tell that you are doing great things for women Heart. , and I appreciate your willingness to share your
Michelle Sheely: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it and it's been a pleasure speaking with you, and thank you for letting me share about Women Heart and share my story, and I hope everybody who is suffering out there or just starting their journey with their diagnosis gets the support and the help that they need, and always here to help.
SoBoots Knighton: Mm-hmm. , [:
Michelle Sheely: you.
Boots Knighton: And that's the show for today. Thank you for spending part of your day with me. The heart chamber exists because of you. If you find value in this podcast, consider donating to this cause. Go to the heart chamber podcast.com and go to the donate link. And hey, while you're there, feel free to leave me a voicemail.
I want to hear from you. Lastly, don't forget to leave a review and make sure you subscribe so you never miss another Tuesday edition of the heart Chamber. Thanks again. Have a great week, and I'll be back next week with more stories of open heart surgery and recovery.