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March 13, 2021

WOULD YOU KNOW A HEART ATTACK if you were having one? A Survivor’s Story.

If you’re female, what they tell you is simply not true. Look it up, this is what you will find… Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms… I know you’ve heard it and seen the commercials; it starts in your chest and radiates down your arm. They are the words we hear in our mind when we think, “HEART ATTACK!”

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, killing 301,280 women in 2019—or about 1 in every 5 female deaths. Why is this?

I’ll tell you why, because the people that educate us and teach us what to look out for when you’re having a heart attack, aren’t teaching us the right information if you’re female. They’re telling women what it feels like when a man has a heart attack, and we are led to believe this is universal. I’m here to tell you, it’s not.

A little background on me, going back to 2020, and the start of Covid, I was 62. I was extremely active, eating healthy, drinking water all of the time, not overweight, not diabetic, low blood pressure and heart rate, taking no medications, don’t drink, smoke or do drugs and have been told over the years that I have the heart of someone 20 years younger than me.

July 31, 2020 started off like any other day, I was with my Grandkids (as I usually am on Thursdays when I watch them). We all ate breakfast and went out for a long, brisk morning walk in the hot sun, that included some running, as often is the case when accompanied by a 3 & 6-year-old.

We returned home, played some more, ate a little and continued with our day. Nothing out of the ordinary until about 4:00 when we were downstairs playing. I started to feel faint and clammy. Now, just so you know, feeling faint for me, is not that strange. I’m hypo-glycemic and have experienced fainting spells throughout my life, usually it means I need to eat some protein and fast, and need to cool myself down.

But this time, it was a little different, I just didn’t feel right. Mostly, if I didn’t do something now, I was going to faint and as I hung my head between my knees, I knew I could not pass out while being responsible for 2 small children. So, I called a neighbor for help.

I told my granddaughter to unlock the front door as my daughter’s neighbor was on her way. By the time she got there, I was on the floor feeling terrible. I thought, did I have Covid, what is going on? My back was killing me. More background, I have scoliosis, wore a body brace as a kid, back discomfort is not unusual. When I have it, I need to find somewhere more comfortable to sit or I’m in a weird position. So, I would move from the couch to the floor trying to get comfortable.

In review, here are my symptoms so far, dizziness, sweating, feeling faint, back pain. Nothing sent me a message… “HEART ATTACK!” All symptoms I’ve had randomly throughout my life, so perfectly normal symptoms. I became very disoriented and just felt miserable. No tingling in my arms, no chest pressure.

The neighbor came to help and seeing my distress, called the neighbor across the street, who fortunately, is a nurse. She took my vitals and knew something wasn’t right and called 911. When that call went out, my daughter’s friend, who is a policewoman and lives down the street heard it and 2 off-duty EMT’s that live there also heard it and all came to my rescue.

While the EMTs were having someone look for aspirin and taking my vitals, the ambulance arrived.

Let me interject with, still no numbness in my arms, by now I had difficulty breathing and my back was killing me, but no chest pain. I still had no idea what was happening. There I was, laying on the floor, feeling weak, dizzy, sweaty, horrible back pain and confused. Heart attack was the farthest thing from my mind, because I was healthy, no risk factors and as Doctors had told me over and over, a very healthy heart, plus, more importantly, no heart attack symptoms. No squeezing and pain in the chest other than difficulty breathing and my left arm or any arm was never numb. Luckily, this incredible team of neighbors that was checking me out, knew it was probably a heart attack. I was rushed to the hospital and on that day, I became a heart attack survivor.

What happened? Why a heart attack to someone who is for all accounts doing everything right and living a healthy life?

After the stent was put in, the Doctor came out and said, “You had a heart attack. We fixed one artery and put in a stent, the other 3 arteries look great!” All I kept thinking was how could this be? How could I have a heart attack without any warning signs? How could only one artery be clogged, and all the others look great, that makes no sense?

It was finally explained like this. A small piece of plaque broke off and my body reacted to it as it would any foreign body that enters the blood stream, it clotted it… and clotted it.. and clotted it. The problem was that little piece of plaque broke off in the main artery that feeds oxygen and blood to my heart and as my body tried to protect me by clotting this random plaque chip, it closed the main artery to my heart 98%. A totally random event that could happen to anyone. Simply, if I hadn’t called for help on that day, I wouldn’t be here writing this article.

So, here’s my point. If I was home and not at my daughter’s house taking care of my Grandkids, would I have called for help in time? This is what I believe would have happened if this occurred at home. When I started feeling faint, I’m sure I would have just grabbed something to eat and laid down on the coach for a while, like what I do any other time when I feel faint. I believe as my symptoms grew worst, I would have eventually called for help, but would that have been too late?

This is what has to change and why I am writing this article. Women need to know and know now, that when you’re having a heart attack, the chest pain with increasing numbness going down your left arm, may not happen or in my case, may never happen. I was having a heart attack, but I was dizzy, my back hurt and I had difficulty breathing, seemed like Covid or another illness. My arm never went numb and… I was a healthy person, why would I even think I was having a heart attack?

This is what the AHA Go Red® Campaign says:

Symptoms in Women

  • Chest pain, but not always
  • Pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Jaw, neck or upper back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Indigestion
  • Extreme fatigue

Symptoms in Men

  • Squeezing chest pressure or pain
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

In other words, a heart attack in women can feel like something is not right. You may be thinking to yourself when it’s happening, “I might be getting sick” instead of, “OMG, I’m having a heart attack, call 911, NOW!”

I’m a survivor and I’m so very grateful that I was in the right place, at the right time to have this “random” heart attack. I am so grateful that my daughter lives in a neighborhood where so many are willing, especially in this time of Covid, to come to the aid of a neighbor just because they should. Although, I am sorry this happened in front of my Grandkids and gave them such a scare, I am glad I was taking care of them and knew I had to call immediately for backup. It wasn’t my time to go, thankfully, and now I feel it is my job to tell you what you really need to know.

Go with your gut. If something is not right, no matter how normal the symptoms may be, call for help! Those normal symptoms may be the symptoms of something that is going to kill you. One more thing, always have aspirin in your home. After the ambulance EMT gave me four aspirin, I started feeling good as new, but then it came back. Aspirin really does give you the added time to get you help and hopefully save your life.

The bottom line, if you’re not sure, don’t wait, call 911!!! The life you save, may be your own.

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