Sue Palmer is a Nashville, Tenn., attorney. In a Washington Post article, “She thought it was only a 24-hour bug. What she really had almost killed her,” (March 7, 2016), Palmer wrote she’s seen all sorts of violence as a prosecutor. The sinister cases, ones that involved serial killers, fascinated her the most. Enthralled by their psychodynamics, she studied how they chose their victims and why they kill unmercifully.
“None of that prepared me for the day I met a serial killer of a different sort – a medical one with an ominous name, ‘the widowmaker,’ – that had come for me,” Palmer wrote.
It was an early Tuesday morning. Palmer awoke, opened her eyes, thinking, “Hmm, this is weird.” Seconds later she ran to the bathroom and threw up. Dismissing it as a 24-hour bug, she climbed back into bed with her husband, Tim. She just wanted to go back to sleep. Tim noticed Palmer’s pale complexion, felt her cold, clammy forehead and said they should get to an emergency room. He was afraid she was having a heart attack.
Exhibiting the textbook symptoms of stabbing chest pain and heaviness in the chest, Tim’s dad died at 64 years old from a heart attack. Palmer simply felt cold and threw up. She was 46 years old and the perfect picture of health. Because of Tim’s persistence, however, Palmer ended up in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s ER, hooked to an EKG.
The results were a little abnormal. The ER doctor was skeptical Palmer was having a heart attack, but asked about her medical history. “Nope, I don’t have chest pain. Nope, I don’t smoke. Nope, my cholesterol is normal. Nope, I don’t have a history of heart problems in my family,” Palmer recalls telling the doctor. Plus, she exercised regularly and ate healthy.
The doctor ordered a second EKG 10 minutes later, and a couple of minutes after that, she was on a gurney surrounded by a fast-moving medical team. A specialist emerged: Dr. Joseph Fredi, MD, FACC. He told Palmer he’d be taking a closer look at her heart and if something was wrong, he’d fix it.
Tim gave her a kiss and off she went.
The culprit indeed was a major heart attack, one that was already in motion when Palmer arrived at the hospital. Dr. Fredi, an interventional cardiologist, stopped it in its tracks.
Palmer’s right coronary artery was 100 percent blocked, and the center artery (often referred to as LAD) was 70 percent blocked. “LAD blockage is the problem they call the ‘widowmaker’ because it is the most frequent source of sudden death,” she wrote. “It kills a lot of people, including ‘Sopranos’ star James Gandolfini and newsman Tim Russert. Doctors say it’s a true serial killer.”
According to the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.com), the most common heart attack symptoms are chest pain, pressure, or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes. However, for women, chest pain may be less severe or noticeable.
It’s also possible to have a heart attack without chest pain, as in Palmer’s case. Women often exhibit symptoms without chest pain, such as:
- neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back, or abdominal discomfort
- shortness of breath
- pain in one or both arms
- lightheadedness or dizziness
- unusual fatigue
Nausea and/or vomiting are other symptoms. In Palmer’s case, plaque ruptured the wall of her right coronary artery causing a clot to form, inducing nausea so intense she vomited. “That was my only warning sign,” she wrote. “If I had gone back to sleep that morning, as I had wanted to, I may not have awakened, and if I did, there probably would have been devastating damage to my heart.”
The Mayo Clinic agrees. Women more often than men, experience cardiac symptoms while resting or sleeping. Because women don’t always recognize their symptoms as heart attack-related, they end up in emergency rooms after heart damage occurs.
Palmer, who recently celebrated a five-year milestone since her heart attack, didn’t have heart damage because the doctors were able to intervene early. She not only cheated death, but out maneuvered a serial killer that takes the lives of 300,000 women annually (cdc.gov). As for women who live healthy lifestyles, she advised them not to take that for granted because heart disease doesn’t discriminate. Dr. Fredi told her that 9 out of 10 women with her symptoms would not have gone to the hospital. If it had not been for her husband, she would not have gone either.
“Many women have no chest pain, no tightness, no pain in the arm or jaw until it is much too late,” Palmer wrote. “Many women suffering a heart attack simply ‘don’t feel right,’ just as I did. So, if that happens, don’t ignore the feeling …Get yourself checked out.”
Read Sue Palmer’s complete article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/she-thought-it-was-only-a-24-hour-bug-what-she-really-had-almost-killed-her/2016/03/07/32e6cbfa-c5f5-11e5-a4aa-f25866ba0dc6_story.html
For more about women’s heart health, visit: https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts
For heart attack first aid basics, visit: https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-heart-attack/basics/art-20056679
To learn more about a widowmaker (or LAD) heart attack, visit: https://www.healthline.com/health/widowmaker-heart-attack