What a Silent Heart Attack Sounds Like

Heart Felt is our department highlighting our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.

After almost 25 years in management, I was working in my six-figure dream job. On a beautiful spring day in 2006, I decided to hop in the back of a truck full of stock and help the guys unload. I did this regularly to get a look at our latest items. As I lifted a box I got a little twinge in my back. It felt like a muscle pull and I thought nothing further of it. For six weeks I commuted to work in New York City with no problem, except the little twinge never went away. Finally the twinge was irritating enough that I went to the local hospital. After a couple of tests and consulting with other doctors, the attending physician came in and asked when the back pain started? I told him about six weeks earlier. He said, “You had a heart attack then.”

This is my introduction to the silent heart attack. I was in shock and couldn’t believe I walked around for that long after a heart attack. All the symptoms were there: sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness and most of all, a family history of heart failure in all the females in the clan.

I thought, ‘Okay, now what do I do? I am off work, going back and forth to all these doctors, and too young for this.’

I was depressed but didn’t share that with my doctors. I wanted to do everything to get better and get back to the job I loved and worked so hard to get. After nine weeks, I tried to go back to work: I went in on Monday and by Thursday, I was back in the hospital.

Clearly working was not going to be an option; I was too weak. For almost two years, I kept being hospitalized for cardiac episodes (last count 12). Finally my local cardiologist told me I would have to go to NYC for advanced cardiac care. I was relieved, because I knew I was not getting better and was tired of that ambulance ride to my local hospital. I was sent to Montefiore Medical Center under the care of Dr. Julia Shin, who found my diagnosis after a nine-day evaluation. When she told me that my heart was failing and that eventually I would need a new one, I was strangely happy because I knew the answer to my pain and discomfort was coming one day.

The donor who Watson credits with saving her life was 23-year-old Michael Blain Bovill of Long Valley, N.J. Bovill was killed when a truck ran over his motorcycle on the George Washington Bridge. A Coast Guard cadet and helicopter mechanic, Bovill was also a talented carpenter who helped his father, John, build the family home. Watson continues to honor Bovill by being a tireless advocate for heart disease and organ donation.

That day was July 16, 2010,after 104 days in hospital, when I received the gift of life from a 23-year-old man. Nine days after receiving that heart, I was out of the hospital, and a few days later I did my first donor awareness event. It was National Minority Organ Donor Awareness Day.I was determined to be there because as I lay in the hospital, I learned the discouraging statistics surrounding minority organ donation and the overall need. Starting that day, I began my quest to sign up everybody I knew as donors. Then 11 months after receiving that beautiful heart, I had the honor of meeting my donor’s family on “Ask Oprah’s All Stars.”

That was the beginning of five years of advocacy for heart disease and organ donation with an emphasis on underserved communities. I have signed up over 8,000 people for organ donation and been an advocate for heart and donor legislation. I want to ensure women especially are mindful of heart disease and the toll it takes on us. Sharing my story has been healing for me and I hope helpful to others.

This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Heart Association.

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