After having her fourth child two years ago, Katie Adams noticed that her left arm hurt. She assumed her muscles felt sore from holding her newborn, Abigail, so much. As she and her husband were leaving the house for the first time since Abigail’s birth, something terrifying happened: Adams couldn’t breathe.
“I felt like I was suffocating,” the now 38-year-old from Simpsonville, Kentucky, told TODAY. “The left side of my face and tongue were tingling. It was very, very scary.”
During pregnancy, she had to take blood thinners for a carotid dissection, a tear in her carotid artery. Though the blood thinners help to prevent heart attacks, Adams still believed she was having one. So her husband, Jeremy, rushed her to the emergency room.
She was right: She had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), which happens when the wall of the artery suffers a random tear causing blood to become trapped, leading to a heart attack. Though it's uncommon, it happens more often in young, seemingly healthy women.
“I was kind of in shock,” she said. “SCAD is very rare but is the number one cause of heart attack in women under 50 or who are pregnant or postpartum.”
Adams has an underlying artery condition, fibromuscular dysplasia, which makes her arteries weak, but she also realized her unhealthy choices were hurting her. At 5 feet, 7 inches tall, she weighed 289 pounds.
“I was a mindless eater, eating from my kids’ plates or cleaning my own plate,” she explained. "I needed to really adjust my habits.”
She focused on healthy eating and lost 46 pounds while recovering from her heart attack.
“I couldn’t exercise. I couldn’t even cook for myself. I felt pretty helpless,” Adams said.
When her weight loss slowed, she turned to WW (formerly Weight Watchers) to help. At first, she had to learn which foods to stock in her pantry and fridge so she could have healthy options. After about two weeks, she was faithfully following the WW Freestyle program, and she noticed she was shedding weight. She thinks the program helps her eat in an intuitive way.
“When I am looking at my meals, I am looking for how vibrant they are,” she said. “Half my plate is vegetables and fruits, a quarter is protein and a quarter is a whole grain.”
And she started adding exercise daily. At first, she wondered if she could even do it.
“I started focusing on all the things I can do. Most people can walk,” Adams explained. “I would do 10-minute walks. Over time it evolved to 30-minute walks and doing weightlifting.”
Since starting WW, Adams has lost 55 pounds. She now weighs 188 pounds and hopes to reach 159 pounds, her goal weight. She is focused on being healthy and active to keep her heart strong.
“By treating my body well and respecting it and making sure I am giving it what it needs, I can live a happy and healthy life, even with having a chronic illness. My arteries may be weak, but I am strong,” she said.
She shared advice for others hoping to lose weight.
1. Find your reason.
As a mom to four children, Adams knew she had to make a change for them.
“My whole why is to be the healthiest and happiest version of myself for my family,” she said.
2. Make small goals.
Going from 289 to 159 seemed daunting. But when Adams thought of losing 10 pounds at a time or walking for five more minutes, she knew she could accomplish it.
“Focus on all the things you can do when you are overwhelmed,” she said.
3. Keep it simple.
Adams has go-to foods, such as almonds or fruit, she knows are healthy. Even though she enjoys Pilates and weight training, she continues walking. Sticking with easy, constant habits helps her.
“I get up and walk every day, because by the time I start walking and moving I have a surge of energy and want to push myself further,” Adams said. “Really just be consistent.”