It was the summer of 2016 when Fox Sports reporter Jen Hale’s life would change forever.
Sharing her story with Women’s Health, the 38-year-old broadcaster revealed she had been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which “the ventricle stretches and thins and can’t pump blood as well as a healthy heart can,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
“I was tired all the time — I could sleep for 15 hours a night — and constantly felt short of breath, even during my usual easy workouts,” Hale recalled, “chalking it up” to her vigorous schedule, with the NFL and NBA seasons kicking off in September.
A chest X-ray didn’t reveal anything unusual, so Hale continued her daily grind as the symptoms began to infiltrate her life.
“During a day of preparation for the upcoming NBA season, I slept through all of my afternoon meetings. I had intended to take just a quick lunchtime nap, and I didn’t wake up until the following day, when housekeeping knocked on my door,” Hale revealed, adding both her feet and legs began to swell, leading her to wear flip-flops on the field.
As symptoms worsened, Hale couldn’t hide it from colleagues any longer.
“I had to go from my NBA meetings in New York to Charlotte, North Carolina, to cover a football game. As I walked through the airport, I had to sit down at each gate — even rolling my suitcase up a small incline left me extremely out of breath,” she shared. “Ronde Barber, who was an NFL analyst on my broadcast team, was concerned. ‘What’s going on with you?’ he asked, and he rolled my suitcase for me. Again, I shook it off.”
Barber, a former NFL cornerback for the Buccaneers, noticed the swelling had spread the following day. A TSA agent also took notice following the game.
“The swelling had extended to my waist — so much so, I couldn’t zip my skirt up all the way, and had to cover with a jacket,” Hale recounted.
Hale then consulted with a gastroenterologist to examine her digestive system. He saw the “unusual” swelling, and a visit to the ER resulted in the cardiomyopathy diagnosis. She stayed in the hospital for additional testing for another week.
“Cardiomyopathy is hereditary, but it had never affected the women in my family — only the men,” Hale shared.
She later discovered her heart was only pumping at 16 percent capacity, as the main pumping chamber had been stretched out and thinned. The life expectancy for the condition is about five years.
“I just didn’t think my condition could be this bad,” she recalled, noting her chart stated, “Patient does not seem to be grasping the seriousness of the situation.”
She was referred to a specialist, who advised Hale she could have prescription medication to possibly help reduce the size of her heart. She was also placed on a heart transplant list.
Advised to take a six-month leave from work, Hale opted to cut back on her schedule and wear a Lifevest daily to shock her heart, should it be required.
“The vest had electrodes that tracked my heart’s activity, and the monitor would sound alarms if my heart slowed to a dangerous level. If necessary, the vest would defibrillate — or shock my heart back into pumping — and save my life,” Hale said of the vest, which couldn’t be seen under her clothes.
Hale wore the vest for six months, without ever needing to shock her heart. Two years after the initial diagnosis, the medicine worked, and Hale’s heart is now pumping at 50 percent capacity. She was removed from the transplant list in February.
Instructed to monitor her heart rate carefully and to take her blood pressure twice a day, Hale is still in awe of her second chance.
“I always thought heart problems were only caused by poor diet, lack of exercise or old age — that they could never happen to me,” Hale said.
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