Perspectives: Heart Health Awareness is Necessary to Save Lives

My mother survived a Widowmaker Heart Attack and the experience taught me that we need to be more conscious of our lifestyles to reduce the deadly risks.
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From 80 beats per minute to 0. 

At age 16, I had not yet learned how to recognize the symptoms of an impending heart attack. Looking back, my mother, Heather Fitzpatrick, had symptoms that were incredibly clear: chest and back pain, lightheadedness, and nausea. “Just give me 15 minutes to rest, then you can call an ambulance,” she’d said to me. Just 8 minutes after making that, my mother suffered a Widowmaker Heart Attack. 

Widowmaker is the informal term used to describe a heart attack that involves a complete blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. This term is used because this heart attack is particularly lethal, given that it immediately restricts oxygen flow to 40% of the muscle within the body. 

February is American Heart Month, a time to bring awareness to heart health and offer ways to be more conscious of our lifestyles in order to reduce the deadly risks of cardiovascular disease. By sharing this story, I hope to spread information about the risks of heart disease that I had been unaware of before I witnessed the effects firsthand.

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My family had no history of heart disease, so my mother’s cardiac arrest was shocking and unexpected. Fortunately, my father, Scott Fitzpatrick, a registered ER nurse, was able to perform CPR for approximately 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived. He’d gotten home at 7 a.m. from working an overnight shift and had not been awake to see her symptoms, which had started about two hours before the heart attack occurred.

When a cardiac arrest takes place outside of a hospital or health care center, the survival rate is less than 12%, according to the American Heart Association. My mother was extremely lucky to have survived. 

“She was sent straight to the Catheterization Labs, where they inserted two stents into her LAD, and she was placed on the ECMO, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, for four days,” my father told me, “Her heart function essentially went from 0% up to 35%.” 

Catheterization Labs allow doctors to view the patient’s heart chambers and arteries to determine potential abnormalities. The ECMO allows oxygen to course through a patient who is unable to supply it on their own, essentially doing the work for my mother’s heart while it was functioning at 0%. 

After being life-flighted to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, my mother spent 3 weeks in recovery before being discharged. She was prescribed a home health nurse, but after about 2 weeks, at-home care was no longer necessary because her health and heart function remained stable. 

My mother has since undergone a Less Invasive Ventricular Enhancement (LIVE) procedure through BioVentrix. “This surgery bypassed the dead muscle tissue in my heart to improve my blood flow and the pressures in my heart,” she says. Following this procedure, she was removed from the heart transplant list. 

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in America. Approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men die of heart disease yearly. 

Being informed and spreading information about the importance of heart health and the risks of heart disease can help save your loved one’s life. At age 21, I am now adamant about helping others become informed and am incredibly grateful that my mother is still here to share her story. 

For more information about how you can get involved with American Heart Month or adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle, check out these resources

Categories: Collier’s Weekly