When I was 11 years old, my father died of breast cancer. Yes, men can get breast cancer, although it is very rare. As a result, I spent my adult years focused on the possibility of getting that disease. I knew that many members of my family had died of heart disease, but since they were all smokers and I was not, I assumed that I was not at risk. Even when blood test results showed high levels of total cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol, I was not concerned.

On April 10, 1995, just a month after my 41st birthday, I realized that I was having a heart attack. I had woken up earlier that evening feeling nauseous and thought it was indigestion, so I went back to bed. I woke up later with cold sweats and dry heaves, and began to suspect that it wasn't the leftover Chinese food.

I asked my husband to call 9-1-1 even though I had no prior symptoms, such as angina or shortness of breath. "You're crazy," he said to me. "I don't care," I replied. "Let them tell me it's indigestion."

The ambulance arrived and my EKG showed that I was having a heart attack. To this day, doctors and others marvel that I realized I was having a heart attack and insisted upon receiving the proper care. Many physicians told me that any other premenopausal Caucasian woman showing up at the ER would have been sent home with a diagnosis of indigestion.

After being treated in the Cardiac Care Unit of my local hospital, I was moved to another hospital for further treatment. When I arrived at the second hospital, my new doctor was waiting for me. "Well," she said, "You must tell me the truth, what drugs were you taking that caused your heart attack?" My denial of illegal drug use was futile until the angiogram the next day revealed my very narrow arteries, 2 of which were 90% clogged and a third that was 40% clogged. My doctor never doubted me again! My arteries were so narrow that the angioplasty had to be delayed until small-sized stents could be delivered to the hospital. I was beginning to think that the cardiac care industry was not designed for women. I didn't end up having the stents implanted.

A few years later, after a routine nuclear imaging stress test, a different doctor told me that my arteries had clogged up and that I needed immediate angioplasty and additional medication. I was shocked since I was feeling fine. When I took my test results to another doctor for a second opinion, he explained that my breast tissue had obscured part of my heart, making the results of the nuclear imaging test difficult to read. I was fine and my arteries were okay.

It is now more than 10 years since the original heart attack and angioplasty and I feel great. I attribute my good health to a couple of things: correct diagnosis and proper treatment when I had the heart attack, and major lifestyle changes afterwards, such as a low-fat diet and exercise (one hour a day, 5-6 times a week).

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