Wednesday 16 Apr 2014

Information and opinions presented here do not always represent the views of the American Heart Association.

STORIES FROM THE HEART: Taking her symptoms seriously saved her life; luckily, it was ‘Just A Little Heart Attack’

Published: 9:00 am CDT, February 13, 2014

Marnie Silbergeld (left) and Carol Deckelbaum (right)

There’s always something to talk about when longtime friends Carol Deckelbaum and Marnie Silbergeld make their daily 3-mile walk around Seattle’s Green Lake.

On a windy, drizzly day in March 2012, Carol told Marnie something was going on, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She felt a little nauseous, but that wasn’t really it. Could it be indigestion? Perhaps, but she rarely had it.

Carol continued to walk, because walking always made her feel better. But then Marnie noticed that Carol’s face was gray. Carol felt her chest tighten, but continued to walk.

“Let me do the talking,” Marnie said.

Carol, then 54, focused on breathing. Her mind darted to some personal stress she was going through. The chest pain got worse. Tighter. More pressure.

In all their years of walking together, Carol and Marnie had never stopped early. Until today.

***

Later that morning, Carol reluctantly agreed to go to the ER, fully expecting to hear that she had indigestion and to be sent home.

“It just seemed so far-fetched that I could be having a heart attack,” she said. “But I barely got the word ‘chest’ out and there was a wheelchair underneath me.”

Doctors didn’t like what they saw in her blood work, so they sent her via ambulance to another hospital – one with a heart center.  The next morning, a test detected a narrowing of a blood vessel on one side of her heart.

A drug was injected into the blocked artery to open the narrowing. Her doctor showed her big photos of her heart. The before and after pictures of her artery were dramatic. She didn’t feel foolish anymore.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Carol said. “I felt relieved that I’d listened to my friend.”

***

Marnie feared that Carol might be having something as serious as a heart problem – and encouraged her to see a doctor – because of a video she’d seen.

“Just A Little Heart Attack” stars actress Elizabeth Banks as a working mom who is so focused on the routine of her busy morning that she downplays the symptoms of a heart attack. Marnie came across the video on the Facebook page of her friend Vance Lobe, a survivor of two heart attacks.

At the hospital, Marnie showed the video to Carol and said, “You were doing so many things she was doing in the video.”

Intrigued, Carol watched it over and over. She related to the way the video showed “the busyness of her life, yet crammed in every single symptom.”

The serious-yet-lighthearted video helps spread the message that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. In fact, more women die of heart disease each year than men. The Go Red For Women movement teaches women about their risks, and how to reduce them.

“The video is so representative of what can happen,” Carol said. “You ignore, you ignore, you ignore. You say, ‘Look at me. I’m fine. I’m just busy.’ It’s a really good showcase for what you should be paying attention to and how easy it is to push everything aside and ignore it.”

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Photos courtesy of Carol Deckelbaum

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Do you know a “Story from the Heart” we should tell? 

Send an email to stories@heart.org that’s as brief or as detailed as you’d like.

Previous “Stories from the Heart” include:

Pregnancy masked her heart failure; now she helps warn others about heart disease

Grieving mom works to prevent parents from learning of a child’s heart problem from a coroner

Social worker worried about her health, not her healthcare coverage