February is American Heart Month and one Florence woman is emphasizing this even more with her story of surviving the unimaginable.
“All the times I showed up for a workout class and trained, I was really training for this day, when it truly really mattered and I didn’t even know it,” CycleBar and yoga instructor Ratona Harr said.
Harr lived a very active lifestyle in 2021. She owned her own fitness studio in Florence, Full Body Fitness and Yoga, and taught CycleBar and yoga classes weekly.
“I’m 44 years old at the time, 127 pounds teaching 10-12 classes a week, I was super fit. Under a lot of stress at the time, but super fit,” Harr told LINK nky.
But on the morning of Feb. 27, her world paused.
“I was about 20 minutes into the class and I had this intense pressure in my chest,” Harr said. “I went to pick up my hand and I couldn’t feel my left arm. I end up on the ground. I can’t feel my body. I can’t breathe.”
At 8:39 a.m. the call to 911 was made and by 9:33 two stents were being placed in Harr’s heart. Her main arteries were blocked and she had suffered a “widow-maker” heart attack, so named because of its mere 12% survival rate.
“Being as fit as I was, was also how my heart was able to sustain so much trama,” Harr stated. “It was like my lifestyle came together in such a moment of mindfulness and awareness.”
She remained in the hospital for four days, where she spent time in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.
Two days before Harr’s heart attack, she recalls having similar signs and symptoms that she said could have prevented the entire heart attack, had she gone in and got checked out.
“I just ignored the symptoms and signs, because like everyone else you’re busy and you don’t want to stop your day,” she said. “I went along teaching that day and then two days later I had a huge cardiac event.”
Harr’s lifestyle of disciplined fitness before such a massive life-altering event proves a theme of surprise and confusion.
Harr had never considered herself to be someone who had an issue with their heart, let alone being prone to having a severe heart attack.
“If you experience sustained discomfort for a period of a few minutes, especially if the symptoms are new and have no clear explanation, do not ignore these concerns,” said Cardiologist Curtis Rimmerman with Cleveland Clinic. “Often people sense something is wrong but do not want to believe it is a heart attack. Don’t be your own physician. Seek medical attention.”
Harr’s attack was so severe she now lives her daily life with congestive heart failure, a direct result from each minute her main artery was blocked. Each one of those crucial 60-second intervals represents the more and more scar tissue building up and damaging the heart.
Her ejection fraction, which is how much blood flows into your heart and then how much it distributes back, was 25%. The normal human EF for a healthy human is between 50 and 75%.
Her recovery was long, and lonely at times because of the visitor policy amidst the pandemic. Her husband was able to be with her when she first arrived at the hospital, a testament to the severity of her case, but was not allowed back in once he left to go home and get her glasses.
Once she was cleared to leave, she still had a long road ahead of her. Harr was put in what she called a life vest, which is simply a portable automated external defibrillator. Patients wear the vest 24/7, except when they shower, so that in the event they have another heart attack the vest will shock and revive them. The life vest gives wearers a 98% survival rate.
Harr wore the vest from the moment she left the hospital in February until July.
“It’s a constant reminder that you could literally go down at any second,” she said. “Your life is fragile. I was living in a very fragile state.”
Her message? Do not ignore the signs, do not ignore the symptoms. Get ahead. This could happen to anyone.
“If I had gone to the doctor two days prior to the heart attack when I was having all that pain they would have said, ‘Oh, you’re having a heart attack,’ and all this damage could have been avoided,” she said. “Not one in a million years would you look at me and think ‘Oh, she has a condition, but then I put this vest on and it’s like, oh she’s living through something.”
In what marks almost two years since Harr’s heart attack, she’s made incredible progress. Her current EF numbers are in the 40 to 45th percentile and she’s back to slowly teaching classes.
“I came back to yoga, then came back to strength and then they were like, ‘I don’t know if you’ll come back to cycling,’ and I did,” Harr said.
Harr teaches at CycleBar once a week and other classes multiple times a week at her Florence fitness studio adding, “It’s just what I love, and I’m surviving and having a good time.”
In honor of American Heart Month, the CycleBar studio that Harr teaches at is running $10 classes with all proceeds going directly to the American Heart Association.