Marie Hunt can’t help but wonder ‘what could have happened’ if she didn’t follow her gut and go to St. Luke’s Hospital ER last April.
“Initially, I thought I was experiencing indigestion,” explained Hunt. “I get an upset stomach occasionally, so I wasn’t really concerned. I woke up one night and had chest pains, and I thought, ‘what did I eat?’ I went into our kitchen and got a glass of water because it usually goes away when I drink something. It didn’t go away, but I was able to go back to bed.”
Hunt and her husband, Bill, live on a farm near Hopkinton. The following day, they made a few stops in nearby Manchester to get ready for Easter, which was a few days away. While shopping at a fabric store, Hunt felt short of breath. She was wearing a mask at the time, removed it briefly to catch her breath and recovered. When she mentioned the episodes to Bill, he encouraged her to call her doctor.
“I thought it was my gallbladder and had a doctor’s appointment coming up in a few days and I knew I could get checked then,” Hunt explained. “However, the next day I was in Marion watching my grandchildren when I had another spell. I thought, ‘I don’t know what is going on here, but I better find out before I drive home.’”
Hunt’s son David stopped by his sister’s house to see his mom. When his sister returned, Hunt asked David to take her for a ride.
“I told him to drop me off at St. Luke’s ER,” Hunt shared. “He had his children with him so they couldn’t all go in. I let him know what was happening and asked him to call his dad. When I walked into St. Luke’s, they put an EKG on me and had me in a bed practically the minute I stepped in the door. They worked fast. They were running all these tests. Dr. Dowden came into my room and said everything looked OK, but then he asked if I had any family history of heart disease.”
“Marie shared that she has several relatives with heart issues and that information concerned me enough to recommend we admit her to the hospital for observation,” explained Ryan Dowden, MD, St. Luke’s Emergency Room (ER). “My recommendation was based on clinical guidelines, which help us determine the safest next steps for patients based on not only the patient’s EKG, but also lab results, risk factors like family history and symptoms, among other things.”
“Dr. Dowden’s decision to admit me to St. Luke’s probably saved my life because I had a couple more spells overnight. They took me into the heart cath lab where they determined one of my arteries was 95 to 98 percent blocked and placed a stent to open the blockage,” Hunt said.
“Marie has a troublesome family history of heart disease,” explained Keith Kopec, MD, St. Luke’s Heart Care Clinic cardiologist. “When we look at family history, first degree relatives are most significant - mom, dad and siblings. Aunts, uncles are less significant. Marie was aware of this family history and had previous visits and tests. We tend to think of cholesterol as slowly building up in one’s heart over time. That does happen, but most acute events like Marie’s are caused by a process called plaque rupture. That’s when a small plaque of cholesterol in the wall of a blood vessel ruptures, creating a severe blockage. This leads to a heart attack. This process often explains how one can feel well today and have a heart attack tomorrow. We’ve come a long way in trying to prevent plaque rupture. Cholesterol medicines have helped us significantly lower this risk, but it’s not 100 percent solved.”
Thankfully Hunt’s blockages were identified before she had a heart attack and she now takes cholesterol medicine and others to help keep her heart health in check. She participated in cardiac rehab at Jones Regional Medical Center in Anamosa and continues regular exercise at home.
When in Doubt, Get Checked
“The care was great at St. Luke’s,” shared Hunt. “The doctors and nurses went above and beyond. I am thankful I went to the hospital that day. Living in the country, on a farm, it’s hard to say what could have happened to me. I tell everyone – if you have concerns it’s best to get them checked out. I am glad I did. I guess I could say I truly had an Easter blessing.”
The faster you seek treatment for heart concerns, the better outcome you can expect. If you have shortness of breath, chest pain, discomfort in other areas of the upper body or other signs of a heart attack, call 911 or go to the ER.
Scanning for Heart Disease
St. Luke’s Heart Scan takes X-ray pictures of your heart and detects plaque in the arteries. The results can help your doctor assess your risk of heart disease and determine which steps to take to avoid serious heart complications.
The $99 Heart Scan is for men and women between the ages of 40 and 70. All that’s needed is a doctor’s order.
To learn more about St. Luke’s Heart Scan, call (319) 369-8909.