Medication saved Heather’s life
Chapter 1 A deadly inheritance
Heather Evans was frozen, dead in her tracks as a sharp pain came down her throat. A tingling sensation ran through her arm, as she heard a flushing in her ear. But the pain was gone as soon as it came. A few days later, she had two heart attacks within hours of each other.
“A paramedic told me I coded, twice,” Heather recalls. “I asked him what that meant. He said, ‘Technically, you died.’” In that moment, all that went through her mind was staying alive and strong for her five-year-old son, Skyler.
This was 2004, when Heather was 39. Her sister, Anne, already had a heart attack at 36. It turned out to be more than coincidence. Heather and her seven siblings learned that their genes put them at high risk of coronary artery disease.
Since then, heart disease has taken the lives of four of her sisters and one brother.
Today that reality dominates Heather’s life. She is constantly checking on her two remaining siblings, who also live with heart disease. And to stay healthy, she takes care with her diet, eating lots of vegetables. She quit smoking and works out several times a week (it helps that she works as general manager of a GoodLife gym). Plus Heather takes many prescription medications.
In May, Heather found herself breathless. For the first time in 10 years, she asked her staff at the gym to clear up the weights, rather than do it herself.
Heather pushed to have an angiogram and learned she had major blockages in four arteries and needed quadruple bypass surgery. There were complications during the operation. “The doctors told my son, ‘It’s up to your mom. There’s nothing more we can do.’”
Heather says Skyler, now 22, was her driving force to get through it all. She admitted it was hard mentally, especially after losing her sister only a few months earlier.
“Sadly, you are always thinking about death.… I was afraid of going to sleep and never waking up again.”
Heather (centre, back) with a few of her siblings. Three in this photo have died of heart disease.
Heather and her son, Skyler after her open-heart surgery.
Chapter 2 The struggle to pay for medication
Heather’s health challenges are complicated by diabetes as well as a diagnosis of bladder cancer in 2015. All three conditions required medication. At times she has faced drug costs over $1,000 a month. And before she began her current job, she had no medical coverage
To cover her prescriptions, Heather had to scrimp on fresh groceries, buying cheaper options like canned soups and macaroni and cheese. At times she relied on free drug samples from the doctor at her local clinic.
“Sometimes they did not have samples. It was terrifying having to wait for my medication. My life literally depends on it.”
Today, Heather takes 23 pills and an injection every day to manage her heart condition, diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. One of her medications (Repatha), a trial drug for cholesterol, would normally cost $46,000 per year.
Heather is grateful that her employee benefits cover her medications today. But she can’t help thinking of others who are not as fortunate. “I am blessed to have coverage now, but there are so many people who do not. It is heartbreaking and it is not fair.”
Now, with the current pandemic, people are losing their jobs and medical coverage. For Heather, this fear lingers. “Nothing in life is guaranteed, but medication should be guaranteed. Your life depends on it.”
Heather’s pharmacy provides this organizer to help her manage the 23 pills she takes every day.
Heather having a cup of tea after her open-heart surgery.
Heather on the treadmill six months after her bypass surgery.
Chapter 3 Fighting for pharmacare
Heather is 56 now and in remission after having the tumor in her bladder removed. “The open-heart surgery has definitely weakened my body. But I still go to work and work 12 hours every day. And I’m not going to stop. I am here today because of physical activity, a healthy diet and my medication.”
She believes that for people living with a disease, medication should be the least of their concerns. “There’s got to be something that government can do to make these prescriptions affordable for people, so they can live,” she stresses. She supports Heart & Stroke’s campaign to convince the federal government to establish a universal pharmacare program.
“Pretend it is your loved one without money to buy medication,” Heather says. “I am here to tell you that you would be willing to move mountains if it was someone you loved who could not get the medication they needed.”