Be your own hero during a heart attack

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.47.35 PM.png

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Today, I’m happy to share with you the story of an unusual milestone in life that you may not be familiar with unless you, too, are a heart patient: it’s the Heart-iversary celebration that marks another year since the day you survived a cardiac event. 

My own Heart-iversary is coming up on May 6th, but just recently Laura Haywood-Cory wrote about celebrating the seven year milestone since she survived a heart attack caused by a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).  With Laura’s permission, I’m running her reflections here on this celebration:

Seven years ago today, my husband Paul Cory and I were sitting in the ER at The University of North Carolina Hospital, wondering what in the world was going on with me. I’d woken up that morning with cold sweats, pain in my chest that was going down into my left arm and up into my neck, jaw, and ear, and I was about to throw up.

The rational part of my brain was ticking these symptoms off and concluding, “Hey, I’m having a heart attack,” while the rest of me was freaking out:

“I’m only 40 years old, I’m training for a triathlon, this is NOT a heart attack!”

At this point in many survivors’ stories there’s a hero – usually an EMT, paramedic, nurse, or ER doctor – someone who went beyond, who looked deeper, who didn’t brush off someone’s symptoms as “hysterical female stuff.”

That morning, I was my own hero. I saved my own life by recognizing my symptoms and getting to the hospital.

Once Paul and I got to the ER and I said “chest pain,” they took me back immediately. They gave me aspirin and a nitro patch, did EKGs and X-rays, and drew blood–all the while saying that it wasn’t my heart, that I was too young, too female, in good physical condition.

It would be another 12 hours before a pole-axed ER doc came into my room where I’d been admitted overnight for observation, “just in case,” looked me in the eye and said:

“I would’ve put your odds of having a heart attack at less than 1 in 100, but the cardiac enzymes don’t lie.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 12.24.55 PM.pngSix stents, seven years, and one triathlon later, I say: Know the symptoms of a heart attack, and if you think you’re having one, don’t leave the treatment facility without a blood (troponin) test.*

It’s your story.

Be your own hero.

© 2016 Laura Haywood-Cory

* Troponin is a protein found in heart muscle that’s released into the blood when there is damage to the heart during a heart attack. There are also tests to detect other cardiac enzymes, but a blood test for troponin is the preferred criterion for a suspected heart attack because it’s more specific for heart injury than other tests – especially a high-sensitivity troponin test. Levels of troponin can become elevated in the blood within 3 or 4 hours after heart injury and may remain elevated for 10 to 14 days. When a  series of blood tests is done over time showing elevated troponins, then it is likely that the patient has had a heart attack or some other form of damage to the heart muscle.  For more information on complex cardiology terms, check my patient-friendly, no-jargon glossary.

NOTE FROM CAROLYN:  I wrote more about what Laura talks about here in my new book A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease (Johns Hopkins University Press, November 2017)


Q:   Have you shared Laura’s experience of being your own hero during a medical crisis?

See other posts written here by or about Laura Haywood-Cory:


12 thoughts on “Be your own hero during a heart attack

  1. I think this is a wonderful site. Thank you Carolyn and everyone who contributes.

    I have not had a heart attack but I did come very close and 2 1/2 years and 5 stents later I am still fighting for the right treatment and medication. Although things have greatly improved, I am still flabbergasted when I think of how many top cardiologists and heart specialists are completely unaware of how and why women present differently when experiencing a heart event. Even when we are given prompt treatment (I was, thank goodness), follow up diagnosis and treatment is not only fraught with difficulty but actually becomes a full scale battle (not something people recovering from a serious heart event should have to endure.

    We really do have to be our own advocates and fight for every heartbeat. Thanks again for all of the excellent advice and information and unwavering support.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Christina. I look forward to the day when women no longer have to “fight” to get their cardiac issues taken seriously.

      My favourite example of how this looks if you happen to be a male: a woman in one of my Heart-Smart Women audiences told me that she’d recently overheard a conversation in the ER between the ER doc and the (male) patient behind the curtain between her and the next bed; the doctor said to the man: All of your cardiac tests came back normal, but we’re going to admit you for observation just to make sure it isn’t your heart“. Thus yet another male is appropriately treated according to current guideline protocol, while I and countless other women are sent home….


  2. Pingback: Kristalin Davis
  3. Hi Rayne thanks for sharing your inspiring story (see below) – it is always great to hear of people who recognise when they have the symptoms of heart disease or any illness for that matter it is even better to hear when people beat heart disease and other illnesses.


  4. Hi…. I have a question… sometimes I have irregular heart beat, it changes rhythm…. Is it a heart attack symptom??? I’m 38 yrs old and I weigh 99kg… It’s now a year since this started…


    1. Hello Sbonokuhle – I’m not a physician so I cannot tell you what your specific symptoms mean. For more information about heart palpitations, read this post which quotes cardiologist Dr. David Sabgir, who explains: “We see more patients for palpitations than any other concern. In almost all situations, there is nothing to worry about”. Best advice would be to see a physician just to rule out any problems.


  5. Thank you, both! It was so helpful to read this. Since heart problems run in my family, this is a concern for me. Even more so because I live an hour from the hospital ER. And while that ER there can diagnose you and the team is very efficient at doing so (this I observed when I took a friend to the ER with possible heart attack symptoms), they cannot do any cardiac procedures. For that you have to be flown by an air ambulance to Oahu.

    It’s good to know, just go!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sandra, you have raised such an important issue here. People who live in rural areas like yours in Hawaii are often at a significant disadvantage when it comes to any form of emergency health care. You may not be able to just pop into the ER on your way home from work. And if your local (small) hospital doesn’t have the capacity to do cardiac procedures (also very common except in the largest urban hospitals), it means a much longer delay in getting that emergency help.

      It’s always a tradeoff between living in a beautiful rural area and having prompt access to appropriate medical care. I live in an area with many small island communities nearby. Only one of those islands has a small local hospital. My friends who live there are at least a 20 minute drive from the ferry terminal, half-hour by ferry to our larger island (if the ferries are actually running, daytime hours only of course), another half hour to the closest (rural) hospital, and (if they need to be transferred) another half-hour by ambulance to one of two regional hospitals in the city.

      That’s a long and possibly dangerous time to endure frightening symptoms, and why my friends are considering moving off their lovely little island as they get older and have a growing list of health issues. While that’s not an ideal scenario geographically, imagine throwing in a decision NOT to seek help in the first place. That’s often where the real delay starts.

      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective…


      1. I just wanted to add that unfortunately, there are people like me who don’t get any warnings when they have a heart attack. I don’t remember anything, but not sure if that’s good or bad!! I have brain damage because I wasn’t found for hours and my heart stopped.

        But they brought me back after 11 minutes. My brain damage could have been a lot worse. I lost some of my short term memory but it hasn’t been any big problem yet. Sometimes I forget how to spell a word, and I forget if I’ve taken my meds or not so I have to carry paper and pen with me so I can write things down. I’m happy that I didn’t lose my long term memory because I would never want to forget my sons who passed away a few years back.

        Thanks for reading 🙂
        Rayne (female)
        age 65

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for sharing your incredible story here, Rayne. You’re so right – some people have no advance warning signs that their hearts are in real trouble. What you suffered sounds like sudden cardiac arrest caused by your heart attack – and it’s really amazing that they were able to “bring you back” within 11 minutes. My deepest condolences to you about the loss of your sons. Best of luck to you…


Your opinion matters. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s