I'm 52 and I Had A Heart Attack - 1010 Park Place
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I’m 52 and I Had A Heart Attack

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When I think about heart attacks, old men in sweater vests and glasses come to mind. Actually I don’t think about heart attacks much. I’m (fairly) young, (reasonably) fit. I don’t smoke, limit my alcohol, my kale smoothies are legendary, and I practice yoga every day. I certainly never expected to find myself on the receiving end of crushing chest pain. But last week after a (healthy) dinner of fish and veggies, I was doing the dishes and complained of heartburn. Thinking it would pass and was likely due to a few too many Advil for a foot injury, I went to bed. Over the next four hours the pain increased, migrating to my chest and back. When it started shooting down my arm I began Googling heart attack symptoms on my iPhone. Twenty minutes of denial passed, then I gently woke my partner and told him what was happening.

Fifteen minutes later I was in the emergency room.

The statistics for women and heart disease are sobering. According to WomensHeart.org, 8.6 million women worldwide die each year from heart disease. Under the age of 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal. Each year, 267,000 women die from heart attacks, which kill six times as many women annually as breast cancer.

So what happened? I can’t really tell you. It certainly wasn’t lifestyle related. An angiogram, two CATScans, an x-ray and and ultrasound of my heart revealed no arterial blocks or clots, but my blood work, symptoms and pain all said otherwise. The big tests only reveal the big arteries, but the millions of micro vessels can be affected too, causing what they call a microvascular attack.

During transport from the emergency room to the Shaprio Cardiac Center of Brigham & Women’s Hospital, I was pretty out of it. My EMT kept talking to me, asking me if I knew what was happening. “They said they think I’m having a heart attack,” I muttered. “You ARE having a heart attack,” he said emphatically. (FWIW I’ll take advice from an EMT any day… those peeps have SEEN stuff..!) Once the doctors and I pieced together my family history and lab results, it was determined my heart attack was the genetic variety, meaning I have a family history of heart disease.

I’ve never had high blood pressure or cholesterol for that matter – the few times I’ve actually checked. I’m not easily mistaken for Mama June, sitting on the couch, eating johnny cakes. I’m healthy. I’m active. I juice for heaven’s sake. I never considered myself a candidate for a heart attack, but I had one. Now I have a cardiologist and a long list of meds that block BETAS, thin blood, reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, coat my esophagus, and require consults with the pharmacist upon pick up.

I wish there was a moral to the story, or that cutting back on red meat and ice cream would put me in a low risk/no risk category. What I do know is my children–who’ve been wonderful and funny and supportive during this ordeal–have been told they have a family history of heart disease and need to pay attention. I know you need to advocate for yourself and not let someone on the night shift say you’re likely having a bad anxiety attack if you know in your heart something is wrong (see what I did there!) I urge you, if you know you have a family history of heart disease, make sure you know the signs of a heart attack, and call 911 if you even think you may be having one.


25 Comments

  • Barry L Allison September 26, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Good info!

  • Haralee September 26, 2016 at 8:32 am

    This is an important message to share. Glad your outcome is positive.

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks Haralee… it was certainly a wake-up call for me. Hopefully other women will be attentive to their health when things feel off…

  • Gigi Schilling September 26, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Thank you great article! About kale: a person with hypo-thyroid (i have since i was 46) can not eat “raw” kale.

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:00 pm

      Thanks Gigi. I’d love to learn more about the raw food connection. Raw is so popular but it definitely has some hidden issues as well…

  • Kathy @ SMART Living 365 September 26, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Hi Sara! Glad to hear that you made the right call and got yourself to the hospital. While we can all do things that are healthy and good for us, there are some things that are beyond our control and we just need to take the right actions when that happens. Thank you for spreading the news and reminding us all about this. ~Kathy

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks Kathy. My spouse was actually chastised by the doctor for driving me to the hospital rather than calling 911. It all turned out fine, but we learned that the resources in an ambulance can make a big difference in a potentially life threatening situation…

  • Terry Young September 26, 2016 at 11:34 am
  • Jan Baird Hasak September 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    Great info. Thanks!

  • Jen Lawrence September 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Oh Sara, that’s so scary. And I’m so glad you are OK – or at least relatively OK as the new regime will take some getting used to I imagine. I like to kid myself into thinking that my “healthy” lifestyle will prevent health problems but I know it won’t. For me, my scary risk factor is unmanaged stress and I’m sure it’s doing all sorts of awful things to me. Of course, I stress about my stress, which is basically the dumbest thing ever. Thank you for a reminder to take care of ourselves and to not ignore those annoying symptoms. This column may well save someone else’s life. xoxo

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks Jen. despite my “healthy” lifestyle I believe that years of accumulated stress and living in 5th gear played a big part in what happened to me. Now my focus is really on “managing my stress” and taking steps to focus on how much emotional energy (ie: stress) I really need to devote to people and situations…

  • 1010ParkPlace September 26, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Yes, this must have been so scary, and to think it’s happened to a member of our beloved group… The genetic component is something we think we can minimize with lifestyle changes, but you’re the poster girl for healthy living… I was the poster girl for doing everything right as well, but I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like your heart attack, my breast cancer was genetic. Please update us on how you’re doing. Okay, all together, girlfriends…. BREATHE!!! xoxox, Brenda

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      Thanks Brenda. I’m certainly glad to STILL be part of this group! Maybe we should arrange an off-site where we can all get together and BREATHE…!

  • Ellen Dolgen September 26, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    So happy you got yourself to the ER my dear! I have a family history of heart disease, too. Perhaps this is why I try very hard to interview specialists on this very important topic at ellendolgen.com, but there is nothing like hearing a fellow boomer’s story to truly impact others to be aware of their own heart health risks. Take good care of you!

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks Ellen. It’s interesting what health topics we as women tend to focus on… Hopefully heart health will start to get the attention it deserves.

  • Kaye Leslie Otis September 26, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    unfortunately doing all the right stuff doesn’t guarantee us freedoms from issues. I’m SO glad you’re okay. We need to bring more awareness to women and heart attacks so we recognize the symptoms

    • Sara October 3, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks Kaye. I think i may devote more writing/publishing time to the experience, so more women will know what to look for when they have questionable symptoms…

  • Valerie September 27, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Wow. Sara, I’m so glad you ultimately recognized the signs and went to the ER. Too many women ignore the signs and think it’s nothing. My mother passed away from a heart attack. My oldest sister had a heart attack. I now know that my siblings and I are at risk for a heart attack. Three of the five girls are overweight. I’m not. I eat relatively healthy, I exercise, I drink moderately — I do everything I think is right. Still, I know what my genetic predisposition is. And for that, I know the signs. Thanks for this piece, Sara. And good luck.

  • Elaine September 27, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Sara – Thank you for sharing your story. It’s a wake up call for us all to really listen to our bodies. Wishing you a speedy recovery but give yourself time to heal!

  • Susan September 28, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Sara, we are all so grateful you are okay! What a frightening ordeal, and it just shows how genetics play such a big role in our overall health. Thanks for sharing your story, and for motivating us to know our history and be strong advocates for ourselves.

  • Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski September 28, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    That’s a scary story but glad you are OK. I wish you the best.

  • Donna O'Klock September 30, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Sara – So glad you took action and got yourself to the hospital! And yes, great shout-out to EMT’s – they do know their stuff. Wishing you well as you recover.
    XO

  • Susan Kanoff September 30, 2016 at 6:37 pm

    Thank goodness you’re ok but I can only imagine what a scare you had! Thanks for the great info.
    Susan http://www.themidlifefashionista.com

  • Laurie J King October 1, 2016 at 10:47 am

    I know someone that died of a heart attack at 21

  • beth djalali October 4, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    sara,
    i’m always the last to know anything… but i hope you are back on your feet! what a frightful thing to happen. take it easy, kiddo, we want you around for years and years.
    xoxo beth

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