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Atypical Symptoms Lead to Woman's Heart Attack, Shockwave Procedure

by -

Tracy Young

One Friday around 12:30 a.m., Tracy Young, 67, awoke from pain in her arms and could hardly lift them. Thinking it was from overuse or a sign of age, she applied a menthol pain-relief cream and went back to bed. However, not long after crawling in, she began experiencing other symptoms.

“My jaw felt funny and my chest started to hurt,” Young said. “I got up and walked around, then tried laying down again, but it got worse. I thought ‘could this be a heart attack?’ So, I woke up my husband, found my phone and dialed 911.”

Young was taken by ambulance to St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency Room, where the team was prepared for her arrival.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Young said, “They knew I was going to be there, and everyone was ready. They had already called the cardiologist and said he would be there in a few minutes. Before I knew it, I was in the cath lab. Everyone was awesome all the way around, and I felt really confident I was being well cared for."

Shockwave to Open Blocked Arteries

Subhi Halawa, MD, St. Luke’s interventional cardiologist, was on call that night. “Tracy’s EKG suggested a heart attack involving the posterior (back side) of the heart,” Dr. Halawa explained. “We urgently took her to the cath lab and discovered blockages that were extremely calcified (hardened). I had to use Shockwave to break through.”

The Shockwave procedure uses sonic pressure waves to fracture the buildup of calcified fats and cholesterol (plaque) to improve or restore blood flow to the heart. It involves inserting a catheter and emitter through an artery in the wrist or leg, and when activated, the device sends a pulse into the vessel walls to break down the hardened material. Shockwave, also known as intravascular lithotripsy, is based on the process used to safely break up kidney stones. St. Luke’s is the only hospital in Cedar Rapids to offer this advanced procedure for patients with severely blocked arteries (atherosclerosis) or very weak heart muscles and who may not be good candidates for open heart surgery.

“After Shockwave, I was able to expand the region and implant a stent (a metal mesh tube that helps keep the artery open),” Dr. Halawa said. “She needed a total of two – the one I put in the vessel causing the heart attack, and a second one in the front side of the heart, which Dr. Wagdy (St. Luke’s interventional cardiologist) put in the following morning.”

“After the first stent, I felt so much better,” Young recalled. “I went home the next afternoon, after they put in the second one."

Different Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

“Looking back, I realize there were signs I ignored,” Young continued. “When I got home, I was reading online about what happened, and I now know I was having symptoms for at least a couple of weeks or longer. I had a sharp pain in the middle of my back, but I figured it was just a sign of getting old. Sometimes my jaw or arms would hurt. But the biggest one was blurred vision. For probably a month before my heart attack, I couldn’t read the closed captions on my TV. When I came home from the hospital, they were crystal clear.”

Dr. Halawa says ignoring or not recognizing symptoms is common, especially for women.

“Women’s symptoms for heart attacks may be a little different,” he said. “They can present as classic symptoms like chest pain, nausea and vomiting, but there may also be jaw, back or arm pain, as well as fatigue, lightheadedness, shortness of breath or, like in Tracy’s case, blurred vision. "It’s important to be vigilant about your health,” Dr. Halawa pointed out. “If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them. If something comes and goes once, it’s fine. But if it keeps coming back or you have more than one symptom, there’s something going on. We have a number of tests we can use to determine the cause and can take steps to prevent a heart attack.”

Cardiac Rehab Creates Better Habits

Young said she feels better and has more energy now. She has made a commitment to a healthier lifestyle since her heart attack and is participating in St. Luke’s Cardiac Rehab. She’s also eating better and has lost 25 pounds. “The nice thing about rehab is we talk about different aspects of heart disease, like how everything you eat affects not only your heart, but your arteries,” Young said. “I’ve learned so much from that. I love to cook and try new recipes, but since my heart attack, I’m more careful about what I make.”

Young hopes others read her story, so they recognize and take action sooner than she did. Earlier intervention can prevent a heart attack and subsequent damage to the heart.

If you or someone you know experiences any symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 immediately. If you have a history of heart disease, talk to your primary care doctor or contact St. Luke’s Heart Care Clinic at (319) 364-7101 to talk to a cardiologist.


Podcast Episode: Women's Atypical Heart Attack Symptoms and Shockwave

Dr. Subhi Halawa, cardiologist, joins Dr. Arnold to discuss how women's heart attack symptoms can differ from men, the new Shockwave procedure, his advice for living a heart healthy lifestyle and much more. Also, for the first time ever, a patient, Tracy Young, joins the podcast to discuss her heart attack symptoms and the care she received from Dr. Halawa and team.


Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of a heart attack.

Women in particular may present with different indicators. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, call 911 immediately:

• Chest pain, pressure or squeezing
• Nausea or vomiting
• Jaw, back, neck, arm or upper abdominal pain
• Fatigue or inability to maintain usual activity or workout
• Lightheadedness
• Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
• Unexplained blurred vision
• Cold sweats
• Anxiety or fear of impending doom