Women, Make Your Own Health a Priority

A heart attack at 42 helped busy mom Jen Stevens of Scotland do just that.

Healthy Heart|Mar.31, 2018

We all know the type.

She's stoic. Unselfish. Always willing to sacrifice to meet someone else's needs.

That's Jen Stevens.

"What I love most about my mom is probably that she always puts me and my sisters before anything else," says 20-year-old daughter Lana. "She always will go out of her way to make sure that we don't go without, even if it means putting herself back or without whatever she needs."

When this single mom of three daughters in Edinburgh, Scotland, started having chest pains a couple years ago, she blamed it on stress. "It was a gradual build-up of different symptoms, the most important one obviously being the pain in my chest," Jen says. "It was very short episodes to start with, but it became more and more frequent, and I probably didn't take it as seriously as I should."

Make Your Own Health a Priority

But one day at work, the pain got worse. Her colleagues called an ambulance and she was rushed to a nearby hospital. Doctors there used Abbott's ARCHITECT STAT High Sensitive Troponin-I test (not commercially available in the United States) to measure her level of this protein, which shows up in blood when the heart muscle's been damaged. The test provided a fast diagnosis that determined she indeed was having a heart attack. Fortunately, that led to quick treatment at the hospital. Today, Jen is back to living a full, healthy life with her daughters and two dogs.

"I think that was very much a light-bulb moment almost, that I knew I needed to take more care of myself, more care of my health," says Jen, who's now 43.

"It was an investment not only in my own health, but in my kids' future."

Like so many women across the globe, Stevens put her family's needs first. Sometimes, her own didn't even make the list. (It's important, however, to get checked out by a physician for a physical each year – or if something doesn't feel right.)

But "hopefully," says her 16-year-old daughter Amy, "if she tries to a be a bit less selfless, her fitness will get better because she'll have more time to do that. She can spend more time caring about herself because she's important."

Two years after her heart attack, Jen says, "I'm certainly far more active than I used to be. I knew I needed to make changes and I knew I needed to make more time for myself. I actually find it quite therapeutic, cathartic almost to get out every day. Find something that you enjoy and when you find that, make sure you make it part of your life every day, even if it's just 20 minutes, half an hour, do it every day."

For Jen, self-care includes reducing stress and having "a calm and happy mind." And that comes from spending quality time with her three girls.

"We take time out, we spend time together that is nourishing and valuable and rewarding, and it makes you happier," she says. "It makes you smile, it makes you lighter – and I definitely have taken a lot more time to do that.

"That old saying, 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger,' is so true. You assess things in your life, but it pulls you together as well, doesn't it? I think it makes you realize what you have, and how important it is to keep it strong and to keep it healthy."

Life's given Jen a second chance, and she's grateful for it.

"I've been able to tell my story," she says. "I've been able to educate people in my own way about how it's affected me and what changes I've made – and how I've managed to improve my life because of it."