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Acute Rehabilitation Unit

Wow, I had a heart attack!

Judy Novack

I’m a healthy vegetarian with low blood pressure, normal cholesterol levels and no family history of heart disease.

So a heart problem was the last thing on my mind when I visited my primary care physician with complaints of back and chest pressure in February 2012. He ordered an EKG and a heart ultrasound that were normal, and he diagnosed the trouble as pleurisy. The next day, though, the pain increased, and I stayed home from my job at an engraving company  where I’ve worked for nearly 20 years. Normally, I go in even when I’m dying. The following day was no better. That evening, when my boyfriend came home from work, we headed to St. Anthony’s Emergency Department. Their tests also came up normal until they performed a blood enzyme test that indicated a problem with my heart.

“No, it’s not,” I said. “ I went to the doctor and he said it was pleurisy.”  But it was a heart problem. I suffered a SCAD, or Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, heart attack. It happens when a tear in the arteries causes blood to back up into the heart. This is a rare event that usually occurs in young, healthy women who show no risk factors.

I spent nine and a half hours in the Emergency Department, and then was taken to Cardiac Catheterization, where Paul Gibson, M.D. put in a stent. The first day that I woke up that I had the stent, I just felt, ‘Wow, I had a heart attack.’ The next day, it was, ‘Oh my God, I had a heart attack.’ When I was discharged a week later, my heart was almost fully functioning. My care was wonderful: everybody was just great. I never thought I’d have a cardiologist, but Dr. Gibson is great, too.

I began rehab with St. Anthony’s Cardiac Rehab program in April, and am now in phase 3 of the program. I visit twice a week, and my blood pressure is checked when I enter and when I leave. Now, I’m basically on my own with treadmills, exercise bikes, weights and more. Mike and Vickie ask me how I’m feeling, and whether I’m drinking enough water. They take good care of you.

In September, I joined St. Anthony’s WomenHeart support group, and in October I participated in the fashion show for the annual “Go Pink and Red for Women” event.  To other women who experience recurring back or chest pain, I would just say, “Go and have it checked out.”  It’s important.

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