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Heart Attack: Know the Signs

“I’m the last person in the world you would think would have a heart attack,” Marilyn Wankier says.

Indeed, Marilyn is not your average 72-year-old. She’s incredibly active, consumes a nutritious diet, and maintains a healthy weight. The Zenergy member and avid tennis player has been happily married for 55 years and is living what she calls a stress-free life.

And yet—on March 12, 2014, Marilyn did have a heart attack. “A strange feeling came over me. I felt a tiny tightness in my chest. I was really clammy and I felt like I needed to lie down,” she recalls. “Before I knew it, I was lying down and throwing up. I thought: I’m having a heart attack and I need help.”

Marilyn had the presence of mind to take all of the right steps. She took an aspirin and called her husband, who in turn called 911. Marilyn remembers telling herself, “Do not pass out. Stay awake. Keep your eyes open. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay calm.”

Within a half an hour, she was in the ambulance and then on a Life Flight to Twin Falls. Nineteen minutes after she arrived in Twin Falls, doctors had installed a stent and she was recovering in intensive care. A week later, she was back in the gym.

Believe it or not, Marilyn’s story is not all that unusual. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of women—and it often strikes the least likely candidates. Marilyn has always had excellent health. She had a physical exam only four weeks before her heart attack. She does have a family history of high cholesterol—but, there was no indication this was coming.

Educate Yourself
In a perfect twist of fate, about six months before her heart attack, Marilyn had watched a video produced by Go Red for Women™ called Just a Little Heart Attack. She credits that video for helping her to recognize what was happening.

Marilyn wants everyone to learn from her experience and she is on a mission to educate people about the signs and symptoms—and what to do in the event of a heart attack. “You don’t think it will ever happen to you, but when it does, you have to respond quickly,” she says. “Here in the Wood River Valley, it is essential to have that life flight insurance.”

Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense. Others begin more slowly. All heart attacks require immediate intervention. Some people wait too long to seek help. The quicker you respond, the less damage will be done.

Here are some of the signs that you may be experiencing a heart attack:

  • Extreme chest pain (the “elephant on the chest”)
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Radiating pain down the arm(s) and/or numb, tingly arm(s)
  • Isolated throat or jaw discomfort/pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath

It’s important to note that women do not always experience the same symptoms as men. In fact, many women do not report crushing chest pain, but instead they will often experience extreme fatigue or nausea that can be easily misdiagnosed.

“It’s just a gut instinct that you have to listen to,” Marilyn urges. “I wasn’t short of breath at all and I didn’t necessarily have a sharp pain in my chest.”

Act Quickly
The bottom line: know the signs and symptoms of heart attack and be prepared to act quickly.

If you think you may be experiencing a heart attack, call 911. Do not hesitate.

“If I hadn’t had the presence of mind to act, I would be dead. There is no question about it,” Marilyn insists. “If you are all by yourself, you are the only one that can save yourself. Stay alert and take all the right steps quickly and decisively, no matter how awful you feel.”

Want to learn more? Visit the American Heart Association.

Stay Healthy
Another thing working in Marilyn’s favor was her healthy lifestyle. “I’m doing quite well, partially because I was physically fit to begin with,” Marilyn says.

If you needed incentive to stay committed to your own health program, this is it!