Health watch

By Jillian Milam
March 11, 2005

Ryan Norris

A man grabs his chest as if he was being stabbed with a knife, tumbles to the ground with shortness of breath and extends his arm in the air grasping for help. This man is obviously experiencing a heart attack…at least that’s how it’s portrayed in the movies.

In real life, this isn’t always how heart attacks present themselves. Some people don’t recognize the signs soon enough because of how subtle the beginnings of cardiac problems can be.

My father speaks from a personal account. “If I could tell the world one thing, I would want to educate people about the lesser known symptoms of a heart attack.”

Ever since his heart attack in September of 2003, his whole life has changed partially due to lack of knowledge about the signs. He woke up in the middle of the night with normal symptoms of indigestion. After walking around the house for about a half hour feeling “not right,” he woke up my mother to tell her something was wrong. Dizziness, cold sweats and dull ache in his upper chest were his complaints. All of which are indications of heartburn or indigestion, something my father regularly experiences.

However, after realizing that the dull ache continued into his upper arms, they began to suspect that it might actually be something other than serious heartburn. After debating whether or not to take him to the hospital, they finally got in the car and started driving. Initially, my mother was going to drive him to Doylestown Hospital because the closest hospital to our house does not have a cardiac unit. However, with Doylestown Hospital being about 40 minutes away, it is a blessing that they decided to go to the closest one, because upon arrival he coded blue, meaning his heart had stopped, twice.

Because of the long period of time the heart attack symptoms went unrecognized, the damage from the blockage of his right coronary artery deepened. The muscle and tissue to which this coronary artery supplies oxygenated blood completely died.

Although he did pull through, his life is forever changed with his daily medication, things he can and cannot eat and things he can and cannot do.

As a result of ignorance, the vast majority of people who do not recognize the symptoms right away aren’t as lucky as my father. If we had just known ahead of time that those signs were leading to something serious, he would not have a partially damaged heart today. Or maybe if we had known to give him aspirin to ease the effects of the attack, he would not need a defibrillator inside of his chest. Taking aspirin during a heart attack thins out blood, making it easier for blood to get to the heart.

Wasting all that time deciding what to do about his symptoms was the biggest mistake one could ever make in that situation. If we had only known, he would probably be leading a normal life as opposed to living with a damaged heart, defibrillator in his chest and the dark cloud over his head that one day it might happen again.

“If you have any loved ones where you think there’s any chance at all, please make sure they understand. Let them know if there’s any doubt at all, get them to the hospital by calling the ambulance right away,” he said.

If we had only known.

Posted to the web by Ryan Norris

Jillian Milam

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