When Deborah Chambers’ cardiologist told her that if she didn’t quit smoking, cigarettes would kill her, she took the advice with a grain of salt — she knew she would not stop smoking.
The 61-year-old Statesville resident had been smoking for the majority of her life, and she had no plans of quitting.
“Nothing anyone told me was going to stop me from smoking,” said Chambers.
What she did not know, however, was that she would be rushed to Iredell Memorial Hospital a few weeks later.
Chambers was having difficulty walking, so she had just started visiting the office of Jips Zachariah, a Piedmont HealthCare cardiologist who also practices at the Iredell Heart & Vascular Center. She had two appointments with Zachariah and in both, he stressed the importance of quitting smoking.
Smoking affects nearly every organ in the body and is a major cause of heart disease. Among several complications, smoking cigarettes can cause blood vessels to narrow, raise blood pressure, increase the formation of plaque in blood vessels, and can cause blood to thicken, which leads to the formation of clots inside veins and arteries.
“Dr. Zachariah was straightforward with me at the appointments, and he wasn’t sugar-coating it. I was just hardheaded. Nobody’s words got through to me,” said Chambers.
A couple of weeks later, in December 2021, Chambers began having chest pain that she believed was indigestion or heartburn.
“The pain had been going on for about two weeks. I couldn’t get comfortable. I would get up, try to walk around, and took TUMS, but it felt like the more I did, the worse it got,” she said.
“One day, the pain just wasn’t going away. It was tightening and worsening,” she said.
Worried about her, Chambers’ family called 9-1-1. She was taken by ambulance to Iredell Memorial Hospital’s emergency room.
“I’m one who doesn’t go to the hospital. I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to the hospital, and it’s just indigestion.’ I felt like I was going to be taking doctors and nurses away from patients who really needed them,” said Chambers.
When Chambers arrived at Iredell Memorial, she was understandably scared and worried. Though she was in an uncomfortable, scary situation, she felt more at ease when she realized it was her cardiologist, Zachariah, who was working at the Heart & Vascular Center in the hospital that day.
“She [Chambers] had come in with chest pain and shortness of breath. She was not doing well. It was quickly determined she was having a heart attack,” said Zachariah.
“When they say heart attack, you rethink everything. Especially with the pain I had, I thought, ‘this is it.’ And it could have been,” said Chambers.
Chambers was immediately taken to the cardiac catheterization lab (cath lab) for a procedure.
“We were able to go through the wrist and get the artery that was causing the issues opened up,” said Zachariah.
Chambers had two stents placed into her arteries, and the next day, she was sent home from the hospital.
“They saved my life that day,” she said.
A few months later, in February 2022, Chambers had to go back to Iredell Memorial for another procedure. In this procedure, Zachariah cleared several clogged arteries in her legs.
After her two procedures, Chambers felt like she was given a new lease on life. So many of the small tasks and activities she thought she could no longer do became achievable.
“I think I was taking my life for granted. Dr. Zachariah and Dr. Naveed [Naveed Rajper, Piedmont HealthCare cardiologist] gave me that second life,” she said. “I can walk now. I don’t need to grab a shopping cart at the grocery store just to lean on it. Just washing the dishes back then was difficult. I would wash a few and go sit down. Now, I’m standing there and cleaning the entire kitchen.”
Reflecting on her experience, Chambers is incredibly thankful for the care she received from both the hospital staff and her doctors.
“Everybody in the hospital was so nice. They comforted me and gave me all the information and choices I needed. One woman even cried with me. They are heartfelt and excellent,” said Chambers.
“I also have a big tub that I’m filling up with lifesavers and giving to Dr. Zachariah and Dr. Naveed because it’s not just that they saved my life, they gave me back the quality of life that I had missed. I celebrate December as my second birthday now,” she said.
Looking forward, Chambers is excited about life and is keeping a positive outlook.
“I used to want to do all these things in life, but that want had actually stopped. Now, I have this big paper with a bucket list on it. And it all started for me in December,” she said.
She even quit smoking.
“If I knew when I picked up my first and thousandth or last cigarette what I would have to go through, I definitely would have quit earlier. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth the pain, and it’s not worth your life,” said Chambers.
Chambers’ story was shared recently during the Iredell Health Foundation’s inaugural Heart of Jazz. At the event, she presented Jips Zachariah and Naveed Rajper with her tub of lifesavers.
Heart of Jazz is a fundraiser benefitting the Cardiac & Vascular Care Fund for Iredell Health System. The fund supports the life-saving efforts of cardiologists, vascular surgeons, nurses, and technicians throughout the health system, and 100 percent of funds raised remain in Iredell County. To learn more about the fund, or to make a donation, visit IredellHealthFoundation.org, or call 704-878-7669.