By Sharon Kay
April 07, 2008
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Right after her double bypass surgery at 57, Kit Cassak, of Scottsdale, Ariz., a self-described optimist, was her usual upbeat self; three months later she couldn't stop crying. "I'd be scared to go to sleep at night—I didn't know if I'd wake up in the morning," she says.

After years of battling depression as well as drug and alcohol addiction, Steve Buckles, 58, of Waterloo, Iowa, had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery. "Knowing to expect the depression meant I was able to deal with it as a temporary setback," says Buckles.

It took Bob Johnson a year to feel better emotionally after heart surgery.

Bob Johnson suffered from guilt and depression after receiving a heart transplant at age 61. "I felt awful that a 20-year-old had to die for me to live. It took me a year to feel better about that," says Johnson.

Jim McBride, of Dover, Del., started feeling anxious and depressed about a month after his heart attack in 2006. "It came out of nowhere. I had never had it in the previous 61 years of my life. It really affected my outlook and ability to concentrate on my recovery from the heart attack," says McBride, now 63.

Cassak wasn't prepared for the depression that hit her as she was recovering from heart surgery. She eventually sought counseling, and her therapist assured her that her feelings were normal. She also encouraged Cassak to try to go back to work, because she was feeling isolated, and to resume physical activity. Three months later Cassak was running again and feeling back to normal.

"I am a believer that depression is like a broken toe," Cassak says. "You may not be able to do something yourself, but if you go find out what you can do youll get past it much faster." She says she doesn't anticipate a relapse, but if it happens, she won't hesitate to seek outside assistance, a theme shared by others who have experienced cardiac depression.

"Had I been told before leaving the hospital, or soon after, about some of the potential effects of the heart attack, I probably would have gotten help sooner for the anxiety and depression and known what to expect," says McBride, a minister who initially hoped that his faith would get him through his depression. McBride finally turned to his primary care physician who prescribed an antidepressant, anti-anxiety medication, and therapy. "It immediately helped my mental state and allowed me to concentrate fully on my heart recovery," says McBride.