By Carrie Vittitoe

Like many of us, Beth Stone tries to exercise when she can, but she is the first to admit she isn’t perfect when it comes to fitness. Her small frame might give others the impression she exercises all the time, but she really prefers walking in the park to hitting the gym regularly. Because she “looks” healthy, it may come as a surprise that she suffered a mild heart attack on Christmas Eve 2016 at the age of 51.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Beth and her husband Dave had been having family celebrations, but she didn’t feel particularly stressed. She wasn’t tired or overwhelmed. While putting away groceries on December 24, she felt a sharp pain in her chest that was soon followed by a sensation of numbness in her right arm. It wasn’t until she was hit with nausea that she felt scared and had her adult children take her to the emergency room.

By the time Beth arrived at the hospital, she felt fine again and wondered if she had made the right decision in seeking medical attention. Dave, who is senior pastor at Southeast Christian Church, was preparing for Christmas Eve services, so Beth didn’t want to bother him until she knew what was going on. She says, “The doctor walked in the door and said, ‘You’ll be spending the night.’ I about flipped off the table.” She was truly shocked to learn that she had experienced what is known as broken heart syndrome, which is brought on by stress.

Fortunately, Beth’s heart was not damaged. She didn’t have high cholesterol or any other common risk factors of heart disease. She wasn’t put on a strict diet or told she needed to lose weight. “They told me I needed to learn to de-stress,” she says.

“I thought I had good boundaries,” she says, “But I find myself saying no on the outside but then carrying it with me.” In their various church ministries, Beth and Dave try to help as many people as they can, but it is impossible to help everyone in as big a community as Southeast Christian Church. “You kinda carry that weight,” she says, but she is trying harder to mentally unplug.

Beth has worked some of this scary experience into her ministry, especially with young mothers. She tells them that it is important to be more aware of stressful things. Even though it can be challenging, Beth says she is working to say to herself: “My list is this long, and I’m not going to add anything else to it.”

Photo by Melissa Donald