Not the Typical Face
On June 17, 2014, I had emergency gall bladder surgery. When I woke up in recovery, I looked around and saw a nurse a few beds away. Immediately I felt an intense pain in both upper arms. I started shaking them, hoping the pain would subside, and yelled for help. When the nurse came, I told her my arms were hurting and I might throw up.
Immediately, I was surrounded by medical professionals — and a priest. They began asking me questions about my heart. Why my heart? I had just come out of gall bladder surgery! I flew into “fighter” mode and answered that I did not have a heart condition. And why was there a priest there — no one told me I was dying! Someone was doing an echocardiogram. I was given an aspirin to chew. Then I was wheeled to the cath lab.
I heard the doctors talking about heart surgeries and asked if I would be having more surgeries. “Hopefully just one,” a doctor responded.
I was moved to a small, cold, hard table. I asked if I would be going under anesthesia again and was told that for this procedure the anesthesia would be local. I stretched my neck to see a monitor that showed my artery.
The respiratory nurse said, “You had a blockage.”
I asked what percentage.
“About 80 percent,” he said.
Finally I knew what the problem was.
During surgery I began coughing and couldn’t stop. A gross-tasting fluid filled my mouth with each cough. The nurse suctioned some out, but I know I swallowed most of it.
Then I was in ICU with doctors surrounding me and a nurse yelling at me to breathe while he connected the CPAP machine. (CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is a treatment that uses mild air pressure delivered through a mask to keep the airways open.)
As I went to sleep that night, I was very confused and had many questions.
When I saw the doctors the next morning, I found out I had suffered a massive heart attack! I was only 38 years old. A plaque in my left anterior descending (LAD) artery had ruptured and collapsed the artery, which is often called the “widow-maker.” The on-call cardiologists had responded immediately, and I was in the cath lab within minutes. My coughing was caused by acute pulmonary edema — meaning my lungs were filling up with fluid because my heart couldn’t pump strongly enough. The ejection fraction of my heart, a measurement that determines how well your heart is pumping out blood, was about 15 percent. A normal heart may be over 55 percent.
They had inserted a drug-eluting stent to open my LAD and a balloon pump to help my heart. They didn’t expect me to survive the first night, and the damage to my heart was estimated to be 50 percent. My doctors said I was the luckiest person they’d ever met.
Kimby shows off her Auburn pride
So many stars aligned that night: My gall bladder surgery was originally scheduled for the following week at an out-patient facility. But then I started having severe heartburn. The day before my heart attack, the pain was so bad I called 911. Paramedics said it was likely my gall bladder. I went to my doctor for blood tests, which showed a slight infection. The next day, I was still in terrible pain and had shortness of breath, so they re-scheduled surgery to that afternoon. Right before I left to check-in, the surgeon called and said he didn’t feel right about the out-patient facility and admitted me to the hospital instead. That way he could monitor me for complications since I had an infection.
That decision saved my life! If I had been in the out-patient center, I would have been sent home with pain meds and suffered the heart attack in my sleep. After my gall bladder surgery, a nurse in recovery had noticed an abnormal EKG when I awoke, and instantly notified the cardiologists. They immediately responded with an echo technician. The doctors that were in the hospital and on-call were some of the best in my area. The cath lab was only a couple of doors away. Had it been farther, I might not have made it.
After a 36-session cardiac rehab program and many changes to my lifestyle, I am now at a “new normal.” My doctors are pleased with my progress. I am back at work and trying to live each day to the fullest. I hope to make a difference by increasing awareness of heart disease in women.
I may not be the typical face of a heart attack, but I had one.
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