Darby & Jennie: We Never Imagined We’d be Heart Attack Survivors

Catherine Sanderson

Catherine Sanderson

It’s American Heart Month, y’all!  And because we’re crazy passionate about women’s health and wellness and we know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer, we’re excited to join the awareness movement by sharing with you the stories of two amazing Austin-area women.  Darby Denison and Jennie Covert Stewart are both young, vibrant, active, busy, go-getter women — who also happen to have survived heart attacks within the past year.  

Woah!  What a wake-up call to realize that the face of heart attacks might not be what we all immediately picture in our minds. They do not just affect the unhealthy, the inactive, the elderly or the sick. But wait, there’s a silver lining:  an awareness of the symptoms is key to survival and to minimizing damage, as displayed in both Darby & Jennie’s experiences.  And awareness we can all have.

We hope their stories open your eyes as they have ours and teach you something you may not have known before about heart health and heart attack symptoms among women.  As with all of our Real Women, Real Stories features, these incredible women will also inspire you with their optimistic, hopeful and renewed perspective and approach to life!

We encourage you to please forward this story on to all of the women you love and care about.  Because knowledge is power, and awareness saves lives!

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Roots:

JENNIE: I am a fifth generation Austinite. I was born here, graduated from Austin High School and The University of Texas. I’ve never lived anywhere else except for Oaxaca, Mexico for 6 weeks!

DARBY: I’m from Houston and have mostly done a Texas Twirl! I’ve lived in Houston, Austin (University of Texas), Dallas, a stint in London at Sotheby’s and Madrid, back to Houston and finally Austin since 2001.

Family Life:

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Jennie and her family

JENNIE: I have a large extended family and we are all close. In fact, we are all part of our 106-year-old family business, Covert Auto Company. I have wonderful parents who live 8 miles from me. I‘m the oldest of their two girls as well as an aunt to seven. I married Sam, a custom home builder, 18 years ago and got so lucky to have amazing in-laws who also live close by. We are blessed with three children: Bo, Rachel and Chapel.

Darby and her family

Darby and her family

DARBY: I am from a large, wonderful family comprised of 3 siblings: Dawn, Courtney and Colby and my precious parents Linda and Mack who live in Houston. My claim to fame and a most amazing blessing is that I was born an identical twin to Dawn Thompson, who happens to live just 3 streets away from me. I have wonderful brother and sister in-laws and a host of nieces and nephews that I claim to be my own. Oh, and I can’t forget my precious and precocious golden retriever Wrigley!

Occupation:

JENNIE: I do radio and TV ads for my family’s Chevrolet Buick and GMC dealership in Bastrop.

DARBY: I am lucky enough to have found a career 25 years ago that I still love today: interior design. I have owned my own company since 1995, Denison & Denison Interiors, which I started with my sister Dawn, but I now run on my own.

Favorite Quote:

JENNIE: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.” -Henry Ford

DARBY: It’s an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech ‘The Man in the Arena:’ “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”
Also, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians: 4:4-7

Best advice I’ve been given:

JENNIE: My dad Rox reminds us to honor each other’s differences. I always fall back on this when I lose my patience. It also helps me have an open heart and an open mind.

DARBY: It was from my mom last year after my heart attack and her very serious spinal surgery: “Live and dance and play and have all the fun you can have while you can; don’t waste a day!”

I’m looking forward to…

JENNIE: Baseball season and a Bible Study with Jennie Allen called Numb.

DARBY: I love to travel and have so many places on my bucket list that I don’t know where to start! Prague, New Zealand, Bali, Greece, Croatia and Barcelona are a beginning. I love meeting new people from different countries and cultures and realizing how similar we all really are. And if I had the luxury to live somewhere else for a time it would surely be Paris!

If I had another career it would be… 

JENNIE: I grew up wanting to be a news anchor. I idolized Stephanie Williams — she was the anchor on KTBC with Neal Spelce. I used to imitate her and practice delivering the news in the mirror in my room!

My perfect day would be…

JENNIE: Quiet moments before anyone else is awake, a morning prayer thanking God he gave me another day, lunch with a friend, watching my children play their sport, and dinner with my family.

I’m inspired by…

JENNIE: My children—their work ethic is amazing and they never give up.

 ~ OUR STORIES ~

Jennie Covert Stewart

Before my heart attack, I was crazy busy — which was brought on by myself.  I volunteered for a lot more than I do now, but now it’s just more about quality and focus now. Not that what I did or who I spent my time with before was not important, it’s just that it took up too much time and took me away from what mattered most.

As I mention in the video, having a heart attack changed my outlook on life. It forced me to repurpose my life. It empowers me to say ‘no’ when I need to and focus on just having an audience of One. I have an attitude of gratitude and a true awareness of how blessed I am.

Darby Denison

photo 1

Darby (right) and her twin sister Dawn (left), as featured in a Go Red for Women campaign

Before August 28, 2014, I thought I could do anything, outlast anybody and keep going forever! I was working, playing, exercising, helping where I could, sleeping too little and pushing too hard. I was invincible.

On that night, I woke up with the classic symptoms of a heart attack which I had memorized a mere 4 months earlier when my friend Jennie Stewart had suffered one as well: crushing chest pain, tingling arms, cold sweat and nausea. After denying it for as long as I could and even confirming the symptoms on the internet, I called 911 and was rushed to the emergency room. After numerous tests and multiple theories thrown about, an enzyme test came back elevated (which was definitive proof of heart damage). At this critical juncture, I was taken to the Cath Lab for an immediate heart catheterization procedure in which they removed a blood clot in my Lower Anterior Descending Artery (the “Widowmaker”) and performed an angioplasty. To say that it was scary and an incredible surprise is the understatement of my life, and I will never be the same.

I now wake up every day and thank God immediately for another day on this precious earth! I have learned to say “no” when I need to and “yes” when I mean it. I choose happiness much more often because I see each day as a gift and life as short and I don’t want to waste a single minute of it! I have rebuilt wounded relationships and am more careful to espouse positivity and gratitude in place of negativity and pessimism. I tell people that I love them all the time. I have more patience with myself and others and actually stop to smell the roses.  I count my blessings at least once a day and am thankful for the most simple of things. I pay more attention to my health, go to the doctor (and actually listen to them), and watch closely my cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation and stress. I cherish my family and friends more than ever and am eternally grateful and humbled by their continual love and support.  My heart is overflowing!

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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