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Heart Disease: One Woman’s Story of Survival

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We continue our look at American Heart Month this February by introducing you to a woman from Wilkes-Barre who almost didn't live to tell her story about heart disease.

We met Sharon Kittrick at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township and sat down on a hospital bed. It brought back memories of a year ago, when Sharon called her boss to say that she didn't feel well- she had some indigestion- and wouldn't be coming in. Her boss reminded her she'd complained of the same thing several times in the weeks before, and demanded she get herself to an urgent care facility. That's where she was when it happened.

"I remember having pain going up my neck, up my jaw. And that's the last thing I remember. Until I was in the ambulance, and then I woke up here (at Geisinger)."

51-year-old Sharon, who thought she was in great health, had gone into cardiac arrest.

"(I had) no other symptoms. I worked out everyday at the gym, I walked, I did yoga. No other symptoms, except indigestion," she said.

But Sharon did smoke, admittedly since she was a teenager. Dr. Tom Isaacson, who treated Sharon that day, says smoking significantly increases your risk of heart disease because it can so severely damage blood vessels. He says there's a high number of patients with heart problems in the Wyoming Valley.

"Men and women. Women are just as much at risk. They might be more knowledgable about breast cancer, for instance, but heart disease is a killer of women. Just like it is for men," said Dr. Isaacson.

Sharon credits Dr. Isaacson and his team for saving her life through surgery and rehab, and for getting her back to work in just a little more than two months. But he says it's her lifestyle changes that have really made the difference. She has learned better stress management techniques to calm herself down, continued to exercise as doctors recommend, cut out unhealthy foods and dinners out in favor of cooking at home, and quit smoking.

"It's hard. I'm not going to lie to you. Quitting smoking was the most difficult thing I have ever done," said Sharon. "But staying alive is the better option."