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A Heart Lesson to Learn: Read Linda's Story
Date: 3/12/2015
Bordentown woman finds out all heart attacks do not look alike

 Every heart has a story. For Linda the story is filled with love and family, and is reflected in “memories” like her grandmother’s vintage tea set and her mother’s Toby Jugs lining the shelves in Linda’s dining room. 

A less welcome part of Linda’s family history: heart disease.

“My mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure at 40, and had two heart attacks and a triple bypass surgery. I also found out my grandmother’s cause of death was a heart attack. It is just part of my genetics,” she explains.

Still, when she felt a little off on a warm summer afternoon, her heart was the last thing on Linda’s mind.

Under the Surface

After a workout at the gym and a trip to the grocery store, Linda had an empty feeling in her stomach, and her head was perspiring. She sat down for a moment and quickly dismissed these symptoms as the result of not eating enough on a warm day.

“My husband, Bill, suggested we go to the hospital, but I really didn’t think there was anything to be concerned about. So, I just took it easy and then went to bed,” she says.

The next morning, Linda felt extremely fatigued, with barely the strength to get moving.

“I called Dr. Oswari, my primary care physician, because I knew I had no reason to feel that tired,” Linda explains.

Concerned about the symptoms Linda described, her doctor ran an EKG which showed Linda had a heart attack.

“I sat there in shock for a moment while Dr. Oswari walked out to the parking lot to tell my husband he needed to take me to the hospital emergency room right away.”

In the emergency triage area, Linda was seen by Ilya Genin, MD, cardiologist. Dr. Genin interviewed Linda asking important questions to assess her level of risk, such as:

  • Do you smoke? No

  • Do you have a family history of heart disease? Yes

  • Do you have diabetes? No

In what seemed like no time at all, Linda was being taken to RWJ Hamilton’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab where Edward Wingfield, MD, board certified cardiologist, discovered two major blockages in Linda’s arteries. He placed two stents to remedy the blockages.

Listen to your Heart

It may be hard to believe Linda had no pain from her heart attack, but her story is not uncommon—particularly in women.

“Women can experience heart attacks differently than men. And it is often not the elephant-on-the-chest, left-arm pain people think of as heart attack signs," explains Dr. Wingfield.

It is estimated more than 43 million U.S. women are affected by heart disease. Of those women, heart disease could be the cause of death in one of every three.

Still only one in five American women believe heart disease is her greatest health threat. In fact, women often report being completely unaware of common signs of heart attack, including:

  • Heartburn

  • Back pain

  • Abdominal pain

  • Cold sweats

  • Shortness of breath

“These are each things any one of us has experienced,” says Dr. Wingfield.

“That’s why it’s important to know your body. If you get heartburn, and you have it again just like always and it goes away with your normal efforts to treat it, there’s not a need to worry. It’s when something just doesn’t feel right, beyond anything you’d normally felt before.”

Part of knowing your body is knowing your family history. “Patients with a family history need to be more aggressive about monitoring their heart health, including seeing a cardiologist and getting important screenings like blood pressure and cholesterol,” explains Dr. Wingfield.

Those with diabetes, he notes, should also be vigilant about their numbers.

“It’s important to have these check-ups when nothing is wrong as a baseline, because sometimes that information helps us to know when something is wrong,” he says.

Linda has been monitoring her heart health ever since, regularly checking in with her cardiologist, maintaining a healthier lifestyle, and making every effort to continue her cardiac rehab regimen.

"When you picture what a heart attack looks like, that was not my experience. I'd tell anyone who is experiencing something atypical to have it checked out. We know our bodies, so we need to listen to them when something is not right," Linda says.