Coming Back from Broken Heart Syndrome

Debbie Holland was nearing 30 years as a deputy clerk to a Federal Judge when she had a cardiac episode. She had symptoms of a heart attack, but results showed she had no blockages or clots. As it turns out, Holland had suffered from “Broken Heart Syndrome.”

Broken Heart Syndrome or takotsubo cardiomyopathy is when adrenaline rushes into a person’s system, causing the heart to have difficulty pumping blood. This event can be triggered by physical extremes such as dehydration or high body temperature, but it can also be caused by extreme emotional changes. Hearing that a loved one has died, losing or winning a large sum of money or any kind of stressful event. In Holland’s case, extreme stress caused her attack.

“I did not want to retire,” replying to the advice her physician had given her about retiring early. “I was very, very close to getting my 30 years in. I kept saying "no, no, no" and he kept saying I need to.”

Holland went through the 12-week Hillcrest cardiac rehabilitation program but didn’t give up her job. In the program she was taught helpful diet tips, how to control stress and went through strengthening exercises.

“I could tell immediately how much it brought me back,” says Holland.

However, in April of 2019, just a little over a year from the last cardiac event, Holland had another attack. This finally convinced her to retire. Holland and her husband packed up their new motorhome and headed to the lake for a much needed break.

Apparently you can have too much of a good thing, because her extreme happiness caused a third attack.

“Unfortunately, I guess I was really happy and enjoying myself, and that's what happened,” says Holland.

Holland recovered enough to be let back into the Hillcrest cardiac rehabilitation program for a third time. This meant she got to reunite with her team, including trainer Jason.

“I’ve been with Jason for every rehab cycle,” says Holland. “He's got me on the machine that we call "the killer," which is the crank machine. None of us like but it does a world of good for us.”

Holland’s repeated visits to Hillcrest cardiac rehab center have made her close with the whole team. Going there three times a week, knowing everyone around her, has made these sessions something to look forward to.

“They are wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” says Holland. “The thing that I have really noticed about them is the fact that you're family. They get acquainted with you. We know about each other's kids and family and we share stories. It's not like going to the doctor. You know it's a one-on-one basis.”

She even has close relationships with the other patients. 

“You get to know the patients and you really start cheering them on. If you see someone struggling or really depressed and they can’t quite get it or they think they're not achieving anything, it's surprising how everyone grabs on and encourages. We tease one another to encourage one another,” says Holland.

Holland continues to work through the program and goes to Hillcrest cardiac rehab several times a week. She has seen great improvements so she recommends the program to anyone she can.

“I can’t praise them enough. I don’t know how to explain to someone how great it is,” says Holland. “I encourage it for everybody that I've known that's had a heart attack. No matter what they're age is. I've got church friends that have had a heart attack and I tell them if you want to live and have a good quality of life, this is what you really need to do.”


For more information on the Hillcrest cardiac rehab program, please visit