Kim Leo, Pennsylvania

A little over ten months ago, I suffered a massive heart attack.  It was one week to the day of my 47th birthday, one that I almost didn’t have the chance to celebrate.  Other than taking medication for hypertension, I was considered to be in great health.  My daily routine included at least 30 minutes of cardio activity.   I ate a very healthy diet and was a non-smoker.


My husband and I ride together to work.  The morning of Monday, May 21, 2012, was no different than any other until shortly after we arrived at work.  I took the stairs to the second floor, as I always did.  When I got to my desk, I started to untie the belt of my raincoat.  Out of nowhere, an extreme wave of nausea came over me with the feeling that I was going to vomit.  Within seconds, I began to perspire and experience a tingly sensation in my chest.  I immediately recognized that something was seriously wrong and called my husband and asked him to come to my desk right away.  When he got to my desk, I was on my hands and knees over my trashcan.  He immediately sought help from a first responder, who proceeded to call 911 and an ambulance arrived shortly.

While lying in the ambulance during preparations to be transported to the hospital, my thoughts shifted to my two daughters, who live in Pittsburgh, as well as my parents, who live in the Northern Virginia area, whom we had just visited that weekend.  I knew how shocking this news would be for them.  I never lost consciousness and could hear the dialogue taking place between the paramedic and the communication center at the hospital.  As the paramedic was looking at my EKG strip, she said that she saw normal sinus rhythm but that she was also seeing something that she had never seen before. Shortly thereafter, I heard the driver say that they were going with sirens.  I know that it is critical to receive treatment within 90 minutes of a heart attack and I knew I didn’t have much time to spare.  I prayed that I would make it to the hospital in time to get the treatment that I needed.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was wheeled into a room where a team of medical personnel was waiting for me.  That was a bit overwhelming and I knew that it probably wasn’t a good sign. They immediately prepped me for a cardiac cath. The nurse to my right asked me if there was anyone that I wanted them to call.  I didn’t know if my husband had called our daughters or my parents so I gave her their cell phone numbers.  The next recollection that I had was waking up in the Cardio-Thoracic ICU to learn that I had double bypass surgery, due to a 99% blockage of the left main artery, and that I had suffered a massive heart attack.

In hindsight, I suppose that not knowing what was happening was probably for the best.  But it sure was a difficult time for my family.  When my husband was escorted out of the emergency room to be taken to another waiting room, the nurse said to him, “Sir, I don’t know if you’re a religious man, but now would be a good time to start praying.”  The two cardiothoracic surgeons that he spoke with painted a rather bleak picture and stated that the surgery would be difficult due to my critical condition. The heart function in my left ventricle had become so weakened that the blood supply to other vital organs was greatly compromised.  An Impella device, which is used to aid in ventricular failure, was inserted through my femoral artery to stabilize me until I could go into surgery.   Because I had been sedated after the blockage was diagnosed, my husband had to sign the consent forms for the procedures.

As you can imagine, the news of what had happened was devastating—especially since I was so health conscious about diet and exercise.  In fact, my husband and I had just run a 5K in Pittsburgh on April 21st.  Everyone had the same reaction, shock and disbelief, including my physicians.  I see my Primary Care Physician every six months and had even consulted a cardiologist in July 2011.  I had a normal echo stress test and was discharged back to my Primary Care Physician.  I feel very blessed to be a survivor and I know that the healthy choices that I made certainly helped make the difference.

Since my cardiac event, I have become very passionate about raising the awareness of heart disease in women.  As a result, I recently became a volunteer for the American Heart Association, which I am enjoying tremendously.

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