Terry Guarino said the day before her cardiac arrest was a typical day of holiday time with her sister and a night in with her husband.
“Saturday morning, I got up and worked out, which I typically did four to five times a week,” Guarino said. “I went for a run, four to five miles. I showered. I went downstairs and had my steel cut oatmeal with frozen blueberries on top.”
On the first anniversary of the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital opening at North Shore University Hospital on Friday, Guarino, 57, of Malverne, spoke about her near-fatal experience.
Guarino, alongside supermodel Carol Alt and hospital administrators, spoke about the importance of women’s heart health during Northwell Health’s annual participation in Go Red for Women, a campaign by the American Heart Association.
Guarino said in the six months leading up to Dec. 18, 2016, she had noticed some palpitations and left breast pain, but she assumed the cause was minor panic attacks.
Early Sunday morning, Guarino told her husband something was wrong and collapsed to the floor.
“After that, I was not responsive but I could hear what was going on around me,” Guarino said. “I could hear my daughter come into the room. I heard my husband say ‘call 911.’ All of a sudden, I entered this space that many of you may have heard about. I was in bright light and I was enveloped in total peace. It was a beautiful thing.
“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t want to leave this space.’ Then I heard my daughter calling, ‘mom, mom, are you still there?’ and I came back.”
Guarino was rushed to a community hospital before landing at North Shore University Hospital and was treated for an arrhythmia and left with a defibrillator.
“I really thought I was living a heart healthy life, and yet I stand here before you as a heart patient,” Guarino said. “Trust your body. You know it the best. If something is wrong, go to the doctor. Go to the ER. It’s so important.”
Dr. Stacey Rosen, vice president of women’s health for the Katz Institute for Women’s Health, said in a recent episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” Dr. Miranda Bailey, a chief of surgery on the show, went to a different hospital complaining of a heart attack, but her doctor rejected the diagnosis and called for a psychiatrist instead.
Rosen said, unfortunately, this is common with women complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. Heart disease is the top cause of death in women, and many contributing factors are preventable, such as smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and lack of exercise.
Alt, a Long Island native, said when she was 36, she knew she had to change her lifestyle or accept blossoming health problems.
“I’ve battled my whole life with health issues,” Alt said. “It’s ironic when people hold me up as this perfect icon of beauty and health. I don’t see myself that way. If they only saw what I see when I look in the mirror. It’s completely different. I see beyond the mirror to what’s beneath the skin because I deal every day with my own issues. My world isn’t as glamorous as it looks. My mirror tells part of that story.”
Alt has written five books including three on a raw diet of whole, unprocessed foods, which Alt says she sticks to about 75 to 95 percent of the day while allowing a few cheats for special occasions.
“If I hadn’t changed my lifestyle when I was 36, I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you,” Alt said. “I can tell you by the number of over-the-counter medications I was taking for all the symptoms I was experiencing, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth skipping on nutrition.”