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Take nothing for granted in life

Few people live their lives treasuring every single day. 

Lisa Kirsch does.

“For me, every day feels like…a bonus,” said Kirsch, a Hawley woman who died a few months ago.

Although paddles were able to shock her back to life, she awoke with a whole new perspective —one packed full of appreciation.

Poking the bear

Lisa Kirsch had lived 42 years not knowing she had an underlying condition called Fibromuscular Dysplasia, a disease that narrows the body’s arteries.

She didn’t know she had it because she had never faced any medical situation that aggravated it.

Then, she had a baby by C-section.

Although delivery was fine, six days later on her trip back from a lactation consultation in Fargo, she started to feel a squeezing discomfort.

“I had pressure from my arm pit across the chest to the other arm pit and the inside from wrist to elbow on both arms,” she said, “and I thought, I’m having a heart attack.”

Although young for a heart attack, the classic signs were enough for Kirsch to tell her mother, who was driving, to turn around and get her back to Sanford hospital in Fargo.

“Which, by the way, was dumb.  I should have called the ambulance,” she said, adding that by the time doctors were in a position to help her again, her heart attack was over.

“They (doctors) didn’t know if it was a blood clot from the C-section that they couldn’t see or sometimes the stress of pregnancy can give you like a mimic heart attack,” said Kirsch, who says further testing showed a real, non-stemi heart attack, which is less severe.

That was Nov. 15.  On Christmas Eve, still on blood thinners from her minor heart attack, Kirsch figured her troubles were gone.  “I thought it was just one of those fluke things,” she said.

Serious bleeding

Then, she started bleeding.  It was heavy enough and startling enough for Kirsch to want to get it checked out immediately.

“I started to drive myself, but once I got to Dilworth I had to pull over and call the ambulance because it was too much — it was pouring out of me like a faucet,” she said.

Once back in the hospital, Kirsch was immediately given a blood transfusion.

Doctors said she had suffered the unusual complication of her body absorbing a portion of her placenta.

The bleeding appeared nearly unstoppable, and she says doctors were unwilling to give her something to thicken her blood, given her recent heart attack.

“They said they could always give me more blood, but might not be able to stop a heart attack,” said Kirsch.

10 days and 12 blood transfusions later, the mentally and physically exhausted new mother was released with the idea that she wanted a hysterectomy to avoid any complication like that again.

But eight days after that hysterectomy, her world came crashing down again.

“I was at home at night and my blood pressure kept going up and up and up,” said Kirsch, who went into the doctor, only to be told to go home and keep an eye on it.

“Well, the next day, I had a heart attack,” she said, adding that she was at home with her family when that same squeezing pressure invaded her chest.

Shocked back to life

“When I got to the hospital I coded — my heart stopped,” said Kirsch, who says they used the paddles to bring her back, “They shocked me twice and they must have not noticed I was coming to, because they shocked me again, but I was  so dumbstruck so I don’t know if it really even hurt.”

Tests revealed a dissection in one of her arteries, which happens when a piece of an artery wall essentially splits or separates, allowing blood to fill in there and blood flow to the heart to be compromised.  In short, it causes heart attacks.

This was Spontaneous Coronary Artery Disease, or SCAD.

“The cardiologist was like, ‘it’s very rare and there’s nothing you can do about it; Mayo has only been studying it for two years and there aren’t any answers except for the patterns they see,’” said Kirsch, “and I was thinking I had won the worst lottery ever.”

SCAD is a life threatening condition that can flare up in people like Kirsch, who was diagnosed with fibromuscular dysplasia – the condition Kirsch never knew she had until aggravating factors pushed her already weak arteries over the limit.

In the second heart attack, Kirsch says her doctors believe it was the hysterectomy and hormonal changes that caused it to happen.

Tough recovery

Although she is now recovering physically, mentally and financially, the ordeal has taken its toll.

Not only does the family now have piles of medical bills, but Kirsch’s husband, Mike, has had to turn down work as an insurance adjuster to take care of his wife and two children.

“It’s been thousands and thousands in lost wages,” she said, sounding tired, and adding that she also now has a fear of wandering too far away from a hospital.

“But I know that’ll get better with time,” she said.

And while Kirsch now knows she’ll live with these conditions her whole life, she also knows her life is filled with people who love her.

“I don’t think I truly understood the meaning of community before this happened,” she said, adding that members of Eksjo Church (where she worked part time) worked for her for six months while they and others throughout the area helped her and her family through the tough times.

“They came together and took care of us like family,” said a tearful, grateful Kirsch, “and it just makes me feel so lucky.” 

Kirsch says now more than ever she believes in the power of prayer and believes that despite her diagnoses, she is one of the lucky ones.

“It was a blessing in many ways because it made me realize how many good people we have in our lives,” said Kirsch, who now just wants to sit back and enjoy spending time with her family. “I hope that I’m with my children into adulthood…,” she said, tearful again, “You just have to cherish every single day.”

There will be a benefit for the Kirsch family at Eksjo Lutheran Church in Lake Park on Sunday, June 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. that will include a breakfast, bake sale, silent auction and kids’ games.