Combat veteran Dani Aylsworth tells her compelling story of overcoming PTSD, alcohol abuse and heart failure to regain her health one battle at a time.
At age 23, Dani Aylsworth was a new mother and the only woman in her special forces in the U.S. Army. Distributed to Afghanistan, she tried to fit in with her male counterparts.
“I had no idea what I was getting into. It was hard to be the only woman in that battalion, and everyone figured me out from the beginning,” Aylsworth told Healthline.
When the loss of fellow soldiers and the trauma of the war began – and when she tried to deal with being away from her daughter in the middle of a divorce – Aylsworth began drinking alcohol to cope.
“Alcohol was never a part of my life. I was not a drinker at all, but alcohol in the military is socially acceptable, and [drinking together] is how you build [camaderie]”, In Aylsworth.
Before she knew it, she was addicted to alcohol.
“I now know that my grandfather on my mother’s side died of alcoholism in the 1940s … I did not know that there was a physical addiction that could happen. I thought I was just drinking with my friends, and the next thing you know, “6 years of my life were lost from alcoholism,” said Aylsworth.
After serving her time in the military and returning home, drinking became a normal part of her day and a way to manage the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As she struggled with her mental health, Aylsworth did not recognize her declining physical health.
When she became ill with chest congestion in 2017, she visited a veteran business clinic where she was given medicine for an upper respiratory tract infection and sent home.
It turns out that Aylsworth had pneumonia that turned into a life-threatening infection called sepsis.
“I went untreated for three weeks until it ended up in the bloodstream. My lungs were completely encapsulated with full fluid and my organs were shut off immediately, ”said Aylsworth.
She was placed in a medically induced coma for 12 days to help her body fight the infection. When she was in a coma, she went through alcohol.
“The doctors did not know that I had a drinking problem and could not find out what was happening anymore. “I fought two battles independently, but somehow they crashed into each other,” Aylsworth said.
When Aylsworth woke up from a coma, she was told that the infection was causing heart failure. She was sent home with medication and a portable defibrillator vest.
For next year, she tried hard to get back to the role of single mother despite going in and out of the hospital. She struggled to stop drinking, but could not cope with over 60 days of sobriety.
“I did not know how sick I was until my cardiologist told me I needed a heart transplant or I would die,” said Aylsworth.
The next day, she drove a state to an emergency room, where she stayed for more than two weeks. Doctors started a heart transplant, which involved weekly blood and laboratory drawings.
“I thought that if I went there before I drank, they would not know, but they could [see] the alcohol in my system, and I was denied a heart transplant. I tried to lie to them, but it was madness, she said.
When she received a letter informing her that she was not eligible for a heart transplant due to alcohol consumption, she promised to make changes.
“I could not die like that. “My daughter did not know that the reason I was not there for her was because I was too proud to get help,” said Aylsworth.
In 2018, she received an internal defibrillator implant (IED) that detected two cardiac arrests and restored her heartbeat while she slept.
Aylsworth also entered a detoxification program, received PTSD treatment and participated in 12 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation.
“Being as sick as I was, I was afraid of sweating. I had to build my self-confidence, she said.
When the pandemic hit, she planned to walk 30 miles every day in a nearby park.
“I just started to feel better, but then I started to go faster and taught myself to cook, because I grew up I did not learn to eat healthy … I learned to use vegetables and herbs to give food flavor because I can “not use salt,” she said.
She also embraced self-love and self-care and found comfort in keeping records, practicing gratitude and making contact with friends. She went back to school to get a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“As part of my healing, I created an environment for myself where I can learn and grow and heal. I have learned about my body and what I need and do not need to help me feel good, ”said Aylsworth.
All the work and care she put in the direction of her physical and mental health yielded results: She no longer needs a heart transplant.
“Once you have accepted how much control you really have … and take responsibility, [you can] turn things around. I just want other women to know if you feel terrible, it doesn’t have to be that way, says Aylsworth.
To raise awareness about heart health, Aylsworth partnered with the American Heart Association (AHA) Become red for women initiative.
“I want women to make changes to promote their heart health. As a survivor of heart disease, I know it can be done, but I also know that my health is conditional. My body does not love me if I do not love it back. It’s the most conditional relationship I’ve ever had, ”said Aylsworth.
The AHA reports that although heart disease is the woman’s main killer, it can be prevented 80 percent of time.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and a medical expert for Go Red for Women, said educating women about heart disease is a goal of this initiative.
She points to an AHA survey which showed that 90 percent of women indicated that they knew that heart disease was the woman’s main killer, but when asked what their risk of heart disease was, only 13 percent of respondents recognized heart disease as their own personal risk factor. .
“So it was everyone else’s problem, but not their own,” Steinbaum told Healthline.
While they understand that the risks are complicated, Steinbaum believes that part of the connection is that women think it is enough to take care of themselves part of the time.
“[They think] if they do all the right things – they go a little and do not eat ice cream each day, but only three days a week, then they do a good job, she said.
But how you behave most of the time may not be enough either.
“The point of this is that everyone’s physiology, metabolism, genetics are different, and that you really need to take a deep dive into what your own personal risks are so that you can find out how to handle it better,” says Steinbaum.
Talk to your doctor or visit one CVS MinuteClinic if your speech for total cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index (BMI) can help determine your risk of developing conditions such as angina (chest pain), heart attack, stroke (caused by blood clots) and peripheral artery disease (PAD).
Knowing your family history is also important, Steinbaum added.
“If you have a strong family history, you may need to dig deeper and figure things out a little differently,” she said.
Although it may seem complicated to manage your heart health, Steinbaum said it is never too late to start.
The heart is the most malleable organ. It will answer you … Every day you have to make a choice about how you should live that day, and if yesterday was bad, make today a better one, she says.
Breaking it down in the following ways can make it more achievable.
Nourish your body
Making food choices that nourish your body can help improve cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels as well as maintain a moderate weight.
“In general, the best diet that I really recommend is the Mediterranean diet, which is filled with vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, good fats, omega-3 fatty acids,” says Steinbaum.
Carolyn Raikhlin, registered dietitian and nutrition manager at Upfieldrecommend that you fill the plate with food that represents a rainbow color.
“Dark leafy green vegetables, oranges and red peppers, blueberries, tomatoes – even fresh herbs – are examples of colorful foods loaded with vitamins, fiber and minerals,” Raikhlin told Healthline.
When it comes to fats, she said that “bad” fats such as saturated and trans fats found in milk butter, shortening, lard and coconut oil can raise blood cholesterol levels.
The AHA recommends replacing foods high in saturated fat with foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as these fats can help lower cholesterol.
For example, Raikhlin said I can not believe it is not butter! Original spread (which is certified heart-healthy by the AHA) has 70 percent less saturated fat than milk butter and 375 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids per serving.
However, she noted that fat is an important part of the diet, and about 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat.
“It protects our organs, helps us absorb certain vitamins and is part of every cell membrane in the body,” Raikhlin said.
The AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. However, that recommendation is not necessarily for everyone.
“It depends on what your inherent cardiovascular condition is and how much you are exercising and how physically fit you are, so underestimating what your unique situation really is is something that will help you understand what your diet and exercise look like for you,” he said. Steinbaum.
Dealing with stress can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task.
“I can tell people, ‘You need stress management,’ and they’re like, ‘What? “, Sade Steinbaum.
She suggests that you try different ways to reduce stress levels until you find what works and what you like. This can include things like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, journaling or more.
“Everyone needs to find what works for them,” she said.
Pay attention to your mind
According to a scientific statement from the AHA, unmanaged mental states such as depression and anxiety are associated with a less healthy heart and body.
Steinbaum said that depression is a major risk factor for women. It is also more common in women.
Depression can also increase the risk of heart disease. Who can PTSD.
Positive psychological health traits, such as happiness, optimism, gratitude, sense of purpose, life satisfaction and mindfulness are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death
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