This is the message the Heart Foundation team wants to share in its heart attack awareness campaign which launched last month.
‘I thought to myself ‘no, it can’t be a heart attack. Only sick people have heart attacks’.’
— Linda Blomfield
Two Invercargill woman know this first-hand, and share their experiences with AMY JOHNSTONE.
DECEMBER last year is amonth Diane Lowther and Linda Blomfield will never forget. The women suffered heart attacks and acardiac arrest within days ofeach other.
Meeting in the cardiac rehab education programme, they soon discovered they had similar stories.
Mrs Lowther was at the gym. Her warm-up session was fine, but when she moved on to cardio she started to get a heavy feeling in her chest and felt unwell. Her instructor came over to ask if she was feeling all right.
‘‘I said, ‘I’m not feeling too flash, I just feel like somebody’s sat a brick on my chest’.’’
The instructor suggested phoning for an ambulance.
‘‘I said, ‘no, no I’ll be right’.’’
She was thinking she’d had similar pains before, and if she relaxed they would go away.
‘‘I’d kind of been living in denial and ignoring my symptoms —my angina, as I know now it was.’’
A few minutes later Mrs Lowther was heavily sweating and started to get the shakes.
‘‘Then I got the pain down both arms and I knew I was in trouble.’’
Her instructor drove her to hospital. As the medical team started to work on her, Mrs Lowther said she remembers feeling very tired.
‘‘I felt like I’d just shut my eyes and gone to sleep. I woke up and had the oxygen mask on my face and I panicked a bit.’’
She was surrounded by doctors, nurses, machines and general chaos. ‘‘That’s when they said to me I’d had a heart attack — code blue, flat-line, dead, paddles on, the whole nine yards… Iwas in disbelief really that it had even happened.’’
It was then adoctor told her she would be airlifted to Dunedin Hospital. At the time Mrs Lowther was 49, had an intermediate level of fitness and was working full-time.
With hindsight she was able to look back and realise she had been having symptoms of angina (reduced blood flow to the heart), but had ignored them.
‘‘I thought, it’s the end of the year, it’s December, I need a holiday like everybody else.’’
However, she needed astent — a tubular support — to be placed in her heart.
Mrs Lowther hoped sharing her story would encourage others to have a health check and be more vigilant if they were experiencing symptoms.
That was part of the message with this campaign, Southland Heart Foundation heart health advocate Nicola Mason said.
‘‘People are scared to call 111 in case it’s not really a heart attack. They’re not going to be growled at. It’s so much more important that if it is indigestion then they differentiate.
‘‘[A heart attack] is not always that dramatic,’’ she said.
‘‘Not even close,’’ Mrs Blomfield said.
She was at home resting after surgery the previous day to remove a plate in her arm when she felt unwell. She ate a meal and fell asleep in her chair.
‘‘I woke up and I said to myhusband, ‘I don’t feel so good’. He asked what was the matter, and Isaid I don’t really know. It was pain without actually being in pain — more of a discomfort.
‘‘It was a squashy, heavy feeling.’’ She went to the toilet, and when she came back told her husband to ring an ambulance. The sweat had started and was ‘‘like a hose’’.
‘‘Your body’s working pretty hard to stay alive at this point,’’ Mrs Mason said.
With one look at Mrs Blomfield the paramedic said, ‘‘you’re having a heart attack right now’’.
Mrs Blomfield said she didn’t suffer from many medical conditions at the time, no high blood pressure and no high cholesterol.
‘‘I thought to myself ‘no, it can’t be a heart attack. Only sick people have heart attacks’.’’
When she got out at the hospital she was cold, but still sweating and didn’t know how much time had passed. She went to move the weight on her chest. ‘‘I heard this voice… ‘please don’t touch that. We just brought you back’.’’ Airlifted to Dunedin, Mrs Blomfield was asked how she was feeling.
‘‘I said good, except your helicopter leaks and I’m all wet.’’
The medication she had been given for blood clots had caused blood to come out through her arm wound. Unable to go straight to theatre, Mrs Blomfield was put in critical care until the bleeding stopped.
When she went into surgery the surgeon gathered up more of the medical team. Mrs Blomfield was thinking the worst, however he had brought colleagues in because there was nothing wrong with the front part of her heart.
‘‘[He said] ‘our staff don’t get to see people like you and now we’re going to see what happened’.’’
The investigation discovered some narrowing of arteries and a blood clot. Aged 52 at the time, she had two stents put in.
Mrs Blomfield too has made lifestyle changes — quit smoking and taken the advice to eat everything in moderation. ‘‘I don’t know how long ago it was that I actually felt this good, but it’s a lot of years.’’
Mrs Mason said the two woman were unique because they had taken active steps towards improving their health. ‘‘A lot of people don’t want to believe they had aheart attack, but to take responsibility for your health and do everything to stack the odds in your favour is what you want.’’
Í For more information about heart health go to heartfoundation.org.nz.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include:• Chest discomfort lasting 10 minutes or more
• Pain spreading to the jaw, shoulders or back
• Excessive sweating
• Shortness of breath