If it can happen to me...
“You are one lucky woman,” said my NCH cardiologist, Gilbert Sita, M.D., FCCP, as he turned the computer screen toward me, showing the angiographic image. “You have about a 99.9 percent blockage of your left anterior descending coronary artery, right at the base of the trunk.
Me? Was he kidding? All I had was a little funny feeling in my throat. Let’s back up about three months.
The autumn mornings were getting cooler, and my dog and I took early morning walks every day. Occasionally, I noticed a funny feeling in my throat like the ‘brain freeze’ you get when you drink something cold. As the weeks passed, the funny feeling occurred every morning when walking, however, it disappeared when I entered the warm house. Meanwhile, I ran around Christmas shopping, went up and down the stairs putting away the Christmas decorations and continued my busy life with no funny feeling – except on those cold winter morning walks.
Time to check this out with a doc.
Working at the American College of Chest Physicians, editing the CHEST journal and other pulmonary materials, I had already diagnosed myself with cold weather-induced asthma. “Nope,” said my internist. “Your spirometry results are normal, lungs sound normal. It isn’t respiratory, so you probably should have a stress test.”
Well, my stress test showed some type of abnormality, and an angiogram was ordered one week later. So, after Dr. Sita said I was lucky to be alive, he took my hand and gently told me I needed immediate bypass surgery. He said that women can have different symptoms than what is usually publicized. He was glad that I had checked out that funny throat feeling.
My type of blockage is usually referred to as the widow maker and results in sudden, unexpected death. It’s interesting that I had no other symptoms. I had normal cholesterol levels my whole life. I hadn’t smoked in 30 years. A heart problem was the furthest thing from my mind.
It has been six years since they wheeled me in for coronary artery bypass surgery at NCH. It sure was a wake-up call. Don’t ignore your body’s signals that something isn’t right. You may think it is just a passing quirk, but, if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.
Pam Goorsky is the manager of Editorial Resources at the American College of Chest Physicians in Glenview. In her free time, she assists in training therapy dogs and has worked as a team with her own therapy dog, visiting and interacting with the elderly and with troubled youth. Pam participates in a regular exercise program, follows a heart-healthy diet, has regular physical exams, and tells her heart story in hopes of alerting people, particularly women, to pay more attention when something ‘just doesn’t feel right.’