Heart Lessons

Betty Speaks, health services coordinator for the City of Winston-Salem, says she has learned a lot. She is not talking about her nursing education or the lessons she has learned throughout her 40-year career as a registered nurse. But her own body has given her some life lessons that she shares with other women in our community.

“I have a cardiac condition called supraventricular tachycardia, which means that occasionally my heart would race out of control,” shared Betty. “I had learned all the little tricks to help make it stop, and over the years, they had been effective.”

However, one morning, while home alone in November of 2015, she had an episode that lasted over 35 minutes. “Eventually, I got very dizzy, and I felt as though I was going to pass out. So, here I am, a trained nurse for over 40 years. Did I call 911? Oh no, I lay down on the couch and propped my feet up with pillows just to keep from passing out. And I laid there until the racing stopped,” Betty shakes her head and laughs at herself a little. Decision number 1.

“When I could collect myself, do you think I called my doctor and said ‘Doc, this is something I hadn’t had before?’ Or even drive myself to the ER?” Betty asked. “Oh no, I got up, got dressed, and drove myself to work. As if the City of Winston-Salem can’t operate without me.” Decision number 2. “My decisions could have ended tragically if I had passed out while driving. I could have killed myself or taken an innocent person with me,” she reflected.

When Betty got to work and sat down at her desk, the racing started again. “This time, it came on with a vengeance. My secretary who was talking to me at the time said, ‘I could tell that something was wrong. It seemed as though you were looking through me.’ She said she could tell I was leaving her,” remembers Betty. She slumped over on her desk, sweating profusely and nauseated. “When my medical staff said they were going to call 911, do you think I said, ‘Oh yes, it’s time to call?’” Betty mused. “Oh no, I said, ‘Wait – wait – wait, it will stop.’ Thank goodness, they didn’t listen to me and they called EMS immediately.” Decision number 3.

When she got to the hospital, she was treated with IV medications that stopped the racing. Then in a few weeks, she had an ablation procedure. During this procedure, they were able to find the place on her heart causing the arrhythmia and deaden that place of the heart to stop the erratic heart rhythms.

“After I was officially released from my cardiologist, I knew it was time for me to make some lifestyle changes. I started eating more fruits and vegetables, and a lot of those came out of my daddy’s garden. I also started drinking more water than I have ever drunk in my entire life. I also increased my walking. I even lost 10 pounds. These things have made a huge difference in my life. Decision number 4.

Unfortunately, Betty’s heart story doesn’t end there. She lost her husband Stephen seven years ago following complications from open-heart surgery. “We were high school sweethearts. In 38 years together, we built a life, raised our children, and worked in our church and community to make a difference,” shared Betty. “I continue to rebuild my life without him. Heart disease is a culprit that steals the dreams you have of growing old together, meeting his grandchildren, and walking our daughter down the aisle.”

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both men and women in the United States. However, heart disease and stroke are up to 80% preventable. “My decisions on that day could have had a tragic end, but thanks to my friends and co-workers, I’m still here to share my story and to help other women take heart issues seriously, listen to their bodies, and take the time to focus on their own health so they can make the best decisions. As women, we need to allow ourselves to put our health first. It’s the only way we can continue helping others,” said Betty.

Betty Speaks served as a Forsyth County Go Red Woman in 2017. She continues to share her story to help other women and their families raise awareness about heart issues and the painful loss that heart disease can cause. Novant Health is proud to be the American Heart Association’s Life Is Why and Go Red for Women Sponsor in Forsyth County, celebrating all women in Forsyth County, supporting women wherever they may be in their journey, and encouraging women to put their health first.



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