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At 42 years old, I considered myself a healthy, optimistic woman blessed with three healthy boys, a wonderful husband, and devoted friends. However, my sense of security and invincibility has been challenged and I’ll never view myself in the same way.

About 2 and a half years ago, I developed strange symptoms of nausea, chest discomfort, profuse sweating, and tingling down my arm when I exercised. Almost 2 years ago, I decided to see a cardiologist at the urging of my friends. The first cardiologist misdiagnosed me with mitral valve prolapse. He did not perform an echocardiogram but took an extensive history and gave me a treadmill/EKG test, during which I experienced mild pain going down my arm. He said it was probably pectoral (related to the chest muscles) and connected to the fact that I work out. He basically dismissed me and said to “drink a lot of water” and that he never wanted to see me again because I was too “healthy.”

The following week, I drank a ton of water but did not feel quite right. Within a minute of running across the street, I thought I was having a heart attack and would die on the bench I sat on. My husband was convinced I was misdiagnosed. I was very weak, pale, and needed a second opinion.

A new cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram and reviewed my previous treadmill test results. He did not think I was experiencing mitral valve prolapse but had no other explanation because the treadmill test was “normal.” He suggested a stress echocardiogram to recreate the symptoms. As soon as I started running, his jaw dropped as he saw the EKG change.

I knew at that very instant my life would change forever. Finally my symptoms were acknowledged. He and another cardiologist confirmed that I had an artery blockage and needed a catheterization. My first of five catheterizations took place that month, followed by an angioplasty and a stent implant. Within a few weeks, I knew the procedures had not worked because I was still having chest pain. Progressively over the next few months, I had multiple diagnostic tests, medications were modified or changed, and there were indications by the cardiologist that he did not believe I was defying the odds by restenosing (reclogging of the artery) so quickly. Finally after months of worsening symptoms, I had another catheterization, two stents and brachytherapy, and I still didn’t feel any better. My symptoms became more debilitating than ever. The only relief I got was when they gave me steroids. Again, it seemed that my cardiologist was having difficulty believing how ill I was; in fact, there were times he indicated that it may be psychological rather than physical. I became increasingly frustrated and began to question my symptoms too. He could not believe I felt worse than when I first saw him and that my suffering was in some way connected to all the procedures done to my heart.

My symptoms became worse, so he decided to catheterize me again and found that I had a spasm, or “squeezing” of a blood vessel, in my lower artery from all of the previous procedures done to that vessel in my heart. Within a few hours of multiple angioplasties to try to clear the crimped vessel, I began having severe chest pain and became quite ill. My artery did not respond to the angioplasties and I had a double bypass the next day. Three weeks after the bypass, I ended up in the ER with debilitating chest pain. I was given more steroids and medications once again. The truth is no one really knew how to treat me. For weeks I suffered, trying to live a normal life but to no avail.

After being referred to a wonderful cardiologist who runs a women’s heart clinic, my life changed. I am back to being a mother who can take almost anything my children dish out. My family and friends are visibly and understandably relieved. My plight is not over but I am now prepared to meet the challenge because I have a doctor who listens, knows me inside and out, and who cares enough to be there through thick and thin.

Filed in One Woman's Story > One Woman's Story

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