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Helen Donahue’s Story

Heart Attack Survivor, Age 64, Ayden, NC

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Helen's Story

I was 61 years old. I was trying to get healthier by exercising, eating right, and quit smoking. May 13, 2011 was the last time I smoked. I was really proud of myself because I did it without any medications or patches, and I’d lost close to 40 pounds. Things were looking up. On May 18, 2011, I started having pain in my right shoulder and arm. There was a faint “pull and tightness” in between my shoulder blades. I had been doubling up on my exercises because I’d missed a couple days, and really thought I’d pulled a muscle. I figured if I rested up and took it easy for a couple days that it would straighten up. Over the next couple of days, the pain intensified and progressed to my left arm and neck. The night of May 20th, I took a muscle relaxer, thinking that would help like it did before. It was a very restless night. Although I was sleepy, I couldn’t get the pain to ease up or stop. If anything, it continued to worsen.

On Saturday, May 21, 2011 (the day of my granddaughters 4th birthday party), I finished up my grand daughters cake and sent my oldest daughter to my other daughters’ house with the cake. I told her I would go later. Almost immediately, after she left, my jaw began to tighten and very sharp pains escalated from my arm to my neck and jaw, then across my back to my left arm. I began to sweat and got nauseous (two new symptoms). I knew something was terribly wrong. I texted my daughter and asked her if she could come home. She called me back and asked if she needed to call 911 and I said no, just come home cause I needed to go somewhere. The pain was worse than it was the night before, but I had no chest pain. It seemed like an eternity, between the call and the time she got to the house with my other daughter. Although the pain was intense, I was able to walk to the car on my own. We were at Med Direct (the non-emergency part of the hospital) about 25-30 minutes after we left the house. My daughter told the receptionist that she thought I was having a heart attack. I was immediately taken to an exam room. I heard one of the nurses say that she thought they had “the real deal.” They gave me an aspirin, put nitro paste on me, hooked me up to an EKG, gave me oxygen and rushed me by ambulance to the hospital emergency room.

I had just started having a “pinch” in my chest but it wasn’t often. The Cardiac doctor told me I was having a heart attack. Besides what Med Direct did, I ended up with a nitro drip, nitro patch and three sprays of liquid nitro before the pain eased. The next thing I remember is being taken to the Cath lab and having a stent placement. When I woke in my room, the doctor told me that I was very lucky to be talking to him right then. He said I was knocking on “the other back door when I went in.” They said if I’d had been just a few seconds longer it would have been a much different ending. I had heard that I had a 100% blockage of my RCA, It upset me to no end, and still does, that I messed up my granddaughters’ birthday party. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that, but my daughters tell me that I gave my grandbaby the best birthday present of all, her grandma! I know they’re right. I didn’t plan to have a heart attack on that exact day, at the exact hour, or to “ruin her party.” I now know what to watch out for and believe me, if ANY of the symptoms happen again, I WILL call 911. I believe God has a purpose for me or I would not have survived. Helen

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Helen is interested in giving and receiving support from other women with heart disease. Contact her if you'd like to give and receive support.

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