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I Had a Heart Attack: A Case Study

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 22 May 2014 | comments*Discuss
 
Heart Attack Resuscitation Cpr Heart

Jane remembers feeling very hot, stressed and confined in her car on the M6 as she was on her way down to an important meeting in Birmingham. “I was getting very agitated because the traffic was at a standstill and I only had just over an hour to get there. I knew I wasn’t going to make it,” she remembers.

Jane didn’t realise at the time how prophetic these thoughts almost were. As she sat in the traffic jam, she began to feel very unwell and experienced an aching pain in her chest which went out through her shoulder and all the way down her arm. “I thought I had cramp but then I was having real difficulty getting my breath and I felt hot and really sick,” she says.

Jane does not recall anything after that but, fortunately, the traffic was at a complete standstill because of an accident up ahead and when she opened the car door and collapsed in the road, the motorists waiting in the queue behind her rushed to Jane’s aid.

Emergency Medical Treatment

One of the drivers in a nearby car was a nurse on her way to work and she acted quickly to get one of the other bystanders to call 999 straight away while she tried to see what might be the problem. Jane was unconscious and had stopped breathing, so she started resuscitation using CPR, helped by a lorry driver who was trained in first aid.

Fortunately, the hard shoulder was clear from the previous junction to the next, and Jane’s ambulance was able to get through relatively quickly. For any heart attack the first few hours are absolutely critical and Jane’s life was undoubtedly saved by the quick response of the nurse whose CPR prevented Jane’s heart going without oxygen for too long.

A Dash to Hospital

Within minutes, Jane, who was now breathing, was in the back of the ambulance and receiving oxygen. She was still unconscious and didn’t wake up until about three hours later, with her very worried looking eldest son waiting by her bed. “I couldn’t believe that this had happened to me – I have always been quite fit and never overweight, I thought it was men who got heart disease,” says Jane.

Jane’s view is shared by a lot of people but it is very inaccurate. Jane is actually more likely to have a heart attack than to develop breast cancer, although that is the illness that most women fear.

When Jane arrived at the local hospital, she was assessed and it was found that she had a moderate heart attack that had affected the muscle in her left ventricle. Fortunately, the damage was not too severe and she was breathing normally within a few hours and her heart was working to pump blood around her body without too much difficulty.

After Effects of the Heart Attack

“For the first few days I felt as though I had been kicked by a mule in the chest,” remembers Jane, who was very weak for the first month. “I realised how stupid I had been worrying about things like getting to a meeting, which was probably a waste of time anyway,” she says. Tests done while Jane was hospitalised showed that while she had been spending time working on keeping up with projects, she had neglected to have her health checked with potentially disastrous consequences.

“Although I wasn’t overweight, I had high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol in my blood, both of which are major risk factors for heart disease. The combination of the two and my sedentary lifestyle in the last two years led to my coronary arteries getting into rather a state,” says Jane.

After Jane got home, the whole family reassessed what had happened and Jane made the big decision to give up her stressful job and take up part time work. “One of the things I now do is act as a dog walker and assistant at a local dog kennel – it’s great fun and I am getting much fitter, without the stress of driving down the M6 three times a week,” she laughs. Jane has also improved the family diet and is taking treatment for her cholesterol level, together with a tiny dose of aspirin every day to prevent another heart attack.

“I was lucky – what turned out to be a jolt that made me think differently about my life nearly ended my life once and for all,” she says.

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