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Sandra Sanchez – Heart Attack Success Story

Heart disease – knowledge is power

Sandra Sanchez – Heart Attack Success Story

Sandra Sanchez (seated) learned that heart attack symptoms may differ for women and is making it a priority to educate her female family members (at left) about them.

Sandra Sanchez knew she didn’t feel right.

“I was attributing the heaviness in my arm to stress I was feeling about my brother’s heart problems,” she says, recalling the incident six years ago. “I wasn’t thinking about my heart.”

Sanchez mentioned her symptom to a co-worker, who immediately took her to the emergency department at Methodist Dallas Medical Center.

Blood work revealed high levels of enzymes — markers released into the bloodstream when a person is having a heart attack.

Sanchez was taken to the cardiac catheterization lab for further evaluation by Edwin Olson, MD, independently practicing cardiologist on the Methodist Dallas medical staff. The diagnostic procedure confirmed a heart attack, but there was good news: only minimal heart damage.

The apple doesn’t fall far

Sanchez’s heart problems most likely stemmed from her family’s heart history. Both her father and cousins died from heart disease, and at the time of Sanchez’s heart attack, her brother was awaiting a heart transplant.

“I didn’t expect heart problems for the women in our family,” she says.

Family history coupled with extreme stress, like she was experiencing, put Sanchez’s heart at greater risk, Dr. Olson says.

“Sandra’s case was an atypical presentation for a heart attack,” he says. “It’s an example for why women should recognize that their warning signs are often different than men’s.”

Don’t ignore heart attack warning signs in women

Men and women both can experience chest pain like an elephant standing on the chest, Dr. Olson says, but women also experience symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Upper back pressure
  • Unusual fatigue

Research by the National Institutes of Health also indicates that women may experience symptoms long before a heart attack. Looking back, Sanchez realizes she may have had warning signs as much as two years earlier.

“I was training for a race,” she says. “I’d walk up one hill and feel heaviness in my arm. It didn’t feel right, but I ignored it, hoping it would go away.”

Sanchez admits that she was in denial. “Even after the heart attack, when I’d talk to Dr. Olson, I continued to refer to it as an ‘episode.’ He quickly corrected me: It was a heart attack.”

Today Sanchez is listening to her body and increasing her heart health awareness.

“I’m concerned for the women in my family,” she says. “Educating them is a priority for me, because heart disease does affect the women in our family.”

Heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women, doesn’t have to have the last word. Check out “A Women’s Guide to Beating Heart Disease” in the health library.

From the spring 2013 edition of Shine magazine.