When it comes to facing life's most difficult challenges, 40-year-old Elana Trainoff believes in going with her gut. It didn't take much for the spunky media professional to pack up her bags and venture to an exotic country to start a new job.
Between 2009 and 2014, Elana did just that, outside Canada. In Namibia, she produced documentaries for a wildlife conservation sanctuary; in Zanzibar, just off the coast of Tanzania, she produced an international music festival.
"My life was 'go-go-go,'" explains Elana. "I travelled, socialized, and partied a lot. Working in film and TV can be incredibly stressful and I worked really long hours."
But after returning to Toronto in 2015, something just didn't feel right. While attending a spin class with a friend, she felt short of breath, an unusual feeling for someone who was regularly active. During the class, she even joked to her friend that she may be having a heart attack.
Short of breath again
The next day, while snowboarding, Elana was carrying her snowboard up the bunny hill and found herself short of breath again.
"I kept puffing and puffing and I was like 'Oh my God, I'm getting such a good work out,'" she says. But her instincts were telling her something different and she decided to go to the hospital.
"My friend said, when we were driving, do you think you're having a heart attack? That sounds kind of crazy. And I thought yes it does sound crazy, but I did think something was up."
She went to Emergency at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH).
Elana had her blood pressure taken and the results were normal. The nurse then said, "I'll do an ECG but you're so young, it's probably nothing."
Elana will never forget the look on the nurse's face when she saw the ECG results. "She said, 'I'll be right back, don't move.' And, I thought, 'uh oh'. That's when Dr. Timothy Josephson (emergency medicine physician) and team suddenly descended on me and they were moving me really quickly."
Elana was rushed to the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) at Toronto General Hospital where she was diagnosed with a STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction) – a type of heart attack caused by a prolonged blockage of blood supply in the heart. She had two blocked arteries and had to undergo an angioplasty.
"The paramedic was watching the procedure and every time I looked over, he would give me the thumbs up. They made a very terrifying situation a lot less terrifying," she says.
The first angioplasty didn't work because Elana had small veins. So they left it to see if she could manage it with just medication. "But it was days and days of me feeling horrible chest pain. So they decided to bring in another interventionist to try again," she says.
Dr. Peter Seidelin, a cardiologist at PMCC, was able to insert a stent into one artery, the posterolateral vessel. "I'm really delighted it worked the second time around," Elana says.
Unique in the world of cardiac care
Elana's situation is unique in the world of cardiac care.
"The majority of patients are much older when they get a heart attack," says Dr. Ana Woo, a cardiologist at PMCC. "The majority of younger patients also tend to be male and tend to have a history of smoking."
Both Elana's parents are diabetic but neither had complications with their heart until their mid-60s. "I had also smoked on and off for about 25 years," says Elana who quit cold turkey the night of her heart attack.
"Nobody saw this coming," says Elana, explaining that even her family doctor was shocked.
Carving her own path
Elana admits that it has been a rather lonely path forward, but also eye-opening.
"Something that a lot of people don't talk about is that they don't realize how depressed you can feel after an event like this," she says. "Especially, for me, having nobody to talk to in my age range – [that] can be a very isolating experience. Emotionally, there is a lot to deal with."
Elana currently sees Dr. Brian Baker, a psychiatrist at UHN whose research focuses on the psychiatric aspects of cardiovascular disease. She also just completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program – an eight-week program at TWH, which she describes as "life-changing."
"My biggest takeaway is weaving mindfulness into my everyday life in a way that I had not done before," says Elana. "It's incredibly inclusive and accessible for anybody coming with any health issue and any knowledge of mindfulness and meditation."
Going with your gut
Since the heart attack, Elana feels that her instincts have definitely grown.
"I've now realized that I can really trust my instincts," she says. "I think it's a combination of doing a lot of work internally and trying to be a little more enlightened in life, especially since I've travelled and lived abroad solo as a woman, you definitely have to have your wits about you."
Right now, Elana has "slowed things down," adding, "I want to share my story with other young people, women in particular, about listening to your body.
"Really follow your instincts if something doesn't feel right. Don't feel embarrassed to go to a hospital. Even if they are going to send you home saying that it's nothing, there is going to be that one time where it may not be nothing and you will be really happy that you went."