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Heart attack strengthens public health leader’s dedication to prevention and wellness

Heart attack patient Claudia Blackburn

Claudia Blackburn, director of the Sedgwick County Health Department, was giving a presentation to the Sedgwick County Commission on the Community Health Improvement Plan when she started feeling dizzy.

She asked the commissioners to excuse her so she could sit down, but before she could reach a chair, she collapsed. Someone called EMS, and when they arrived, they told her that they thought she was having a heart attack.

“I just thought, ‘This can’t be a heart attack, I have no risk factors,’” Claudia says.

Walking the walk

Claudia’s life centers on healthy living, both in her job with the health department, and in her personal life. 

“I have always eaten a pretty healthy diet, and I exercise regularly, five to six times a week,” says Claudia, who also has a degree in nursing. “I really believe in prevention and wellness, and it’s a big part of my job, working to keep our community healthy.”

She walks, lifts weights and attends a variety of fitness classes as part of her exercise plan. In fact, Claudia had attended a spin class at the gym the morning of that September 2013 county commission meeting.

Genetics plays a part

EMS took Claudia to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, where after a few tests they affirmed that she had indeed had a heart attack. She was then taken to the heart catheterization lab, where they found an 80 percent blockage in one artery.

A stent was placed in that artery. Claudia’s heart is healthy and functions well now. 

“I got great care, really fast,” says Claudia.

Claudia says her doctor thinks that genetics probably played a role in her heart disease and heart attack. A couple of Claudia’s cousins have had experiences similar to hers, she says.

“You can’t choose your genetics,” she says. “But you can choose a healthy lifestyle.”

Regaining her strength

Claudia says that her healthy habits played a significant role in her healing process.

“Any time you are in good shape physically and mentally, you are more resilient and able to heal faster,” she says. “But you have to let yourself heal.”

Still, Claudia is making some changes in her life.

“I’ve had to learn some new ways of looking at things,” she says. “The big thing I’ve had to learn to deal with is stress. I tended to go, go, go and when I felt symptoms of stress I would ignore them and just go on.”

Taking time to de-stress is important to Claudia. She uses deep-breathing techniques, especially before going into a stressful situation. She’s also added a stress-reduction app to her smartphone.

Part of her healing routine was cardiac rehabilitation.

“I’ve been able to ramp up my exercise, even beyond what I was doing before, which has helped immensely,” she says. “Being monitored while exercising gave me a lot of confidence. The nurses there took good care of me.

“I am so grateful for the excellent care I received through this ordeal, including from the great people at Sedgwick County and at Via Christi.”

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