UNION — While she is the face of The Union Connection Channel 192, Melissa Youngblood is usually telling other people’s stories when she’s on the air, but this week she told her story to both The Union Times and WSPA Channel 7, a story of not one but two near fatal events that changed her life forever.
February is Heart Awareness Month and Friday, Feb. 2 is National Wear Red Day, two events designed to raise public awareness of the threat heart disease poses to women. The events are promoted by the “Go Red for Women Campaign” and the American Heart Association which are urging people to wear red on Feb. 2 and is recruiting businesses and other organizations to participate in the “Paint The Town Red Project” which will be held throughout February.
In Union County, Melissa Youngblood is the spokeswoman for the 2017-2018 Go Red for Women Campaign, one of 12 in the Upstate. Like her fellow spokeswomen, Youngblood has a personal reason for helping to raise public awareness of heart disease and the special threat it poses to women. That personal reason arrived — for the first time — in September 2015 and then returned in October 2016.
They were heart attacks and both of them took Youngblood by surprise, just like they do far too many women, many of whom, unlike her, do not live to tell their stories.
Youngblood’s first heart attack was on Sept. 14, 2015 and the second on Oct. 18, 2016. She said they were caused by a combination of heredity, stress, and her being a smoker.
“Women’s symptoms are different from men’s,” Youngblood said. “The first was pain in both jaws. My neck also hurt a little and my chest, at first, felt like I had indigestion.
“It started around ten that morning, the pains would come and and go, but each time they came back they were more intense,” she said. “Around three that afternoon I began feeling very disoriented, I was very hot, sweaty, and clammy feeling like I was about to pass out.”
Youngblood was at work, so she got a co-worker to call an ambulance which took her to the hospital where, at first, it seemed like things weren’t too bad.
“I was given aspirin and put on a heart monitor which did not detect a problem,” Youngblood said. “About thirty to forty minutes later in the ER my EKG suddenly changed and I was told I was having a heart attack right then and I was going to be airlifted to Spartanburg Regional.”
Soon after she arrived, Youngblood learned just how dire her situation was.
“When I got to Spartanburg, I went straight to the cath lab where it was determined that my main artery, the LAD, also known as ‘The Widow Maker,’ was one hundred percent blocked,” Youngblood said. “They put in a stent and I spent the night in CCU and was released in two days to go home.”
Even though she’d survived the heart attack, Youngblood would soon get some unpleasant news about the condition of her heart.
“Three months later, they did an Echo Cardiogram to see if there was any damage from the heart attack,” Youngblood said. “It was revealed that my heart was moderately scarred and my ejection fraction which is the way your heart squeezes to pump blood to your body was only thirty-five percent. Because of this in later years I could develop a dangerously fast heart rhythm which could be fatal.”
In order to prevent that from happening, Youngblood said her doctors recommended that a defibrillator be implanted in her chest. This was done in March of 2016, but it would not, however, prevent her from suffering a second heart attack seven moths later.
Youngblood said it happened on Oct. 18, 2016 while she was at the Union County Fair.
“I was covering the Sea Lions show when I began to experience the same jaw pain as I did before,” Youngblood said. “This time I didn’t wait, I found the ambulance and went straight to Spartanburg. This time they did not find any blockages, but the doctor had just taken me off the blood thinner one week prior which could have contributed to the problem that day.”
While it had not prevented her from having her second heart attack, the defibrillator did, however, save Youngblood’s life in 2017.
“It was May of 2017 in dance class when my defibrillator delivered two shocks to my heart,” Youngblood said. “My heart rate had gotten to over 200 that day so the defibrillator did what it was designed to do and slowed down my heart rate.”
Today, in 2018, more than two years after her first heart attack, Youngblood continues to deal with the aftermath of the two heart attacks she suffered.
“Things are fine now and I’m stable, but I’ve had some lifestyle changes because of the medication and my low heart function,” Youngblood said. “I stay very tired all the time and simple things are much more difficult for me. In addition, the medication has made me gain forty pounds and that has been a hard adjustment too.”
One change Youngblood has made has been a very positive one, especially in terms of her health: she quit smoking.
There is, however, one reality that Youngblood has had to live with since her heart attacks, a change, a realization that the damage to her heart may prevent her from becoming a mother.
“With my heart the way it is, I could probably never have children,” Youngblood said.
Even so, Youngblood said she is grateful for what God has done for her.
“I’m here, I’m alive, and I thank God for my second chance at life,” Youngblood said. “I want to use my experience to educate people to the prevent the same thing from happening to them.”
Melissa Youngblood’s story is also being told by WSPA Channel 7 which on Monday visited her at her office and then followed her as she distributed Red Dress clings provided by the American Heart Association to the businesses and other organizations in Union taking part in the Paint The Town Red Project. She was wearing a red dress in her capacity as a spokeswoman for the Go Red for Women Campaign and to remind Union residents that Friday (Feb. 2) is National Wear Red Day and urge them to wear red that day to help publicize the threat of heart disease in women.
For more information about National Wear Red Day, Paint the Town Red and related matters contact the American Heart Association at 864-605-7223 or contact Melissa Youngblood at 429-1702 or 426-5008 or email [email protected]
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.