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Carene's Wellness Corner
Heart Emergencies

Carissa Wilkinson was in the middle of her morning routine, getting her son ready for school. She didn't sleep well the night before and wasn't feeling great. A cold? It had snowed, again, during the night so she headed out to brush the snow off her car. She felt odd, and knew that something was very wrong.

"I stood there asking myself if this was going to pass or if I needed to call an ambulance." She barely made it inside to tell her 13-year-old son to call 911.

Shoveling snow is one activity that people with heart conditions are told to never do. It can trigger a heart attack, but not when you're 33, and not when you're healthy, and not when your son has to go school. That's what Carissa thought.

Carissa was rushed to Kent Hospital where she was diagnosed with a saddle embolism, a blood clot at the base of the pulmonary artery just after it leaves the heart. It was so large it obstructed blood flow to the arteries leading to each of her lungs. Her right heart muscle had become very weak, the result of poor blood flow that forced her heart to work harder and become enlarged in the process.

She was instantly given medication to break up the clot, and was monitored closely while blood thinners helped her body regain a strong and steady rhythm. Carissa had no history of clotting or heart disease. So what caused the large blood clot in her lungs? It was a reaction to her birth control medication.

Apparently, Carissa was one of those people for whom "rare but serious side effects may occur" as pharmaceutical television ads point out in disclaimers.

Once the problem was identified and removed, and Carissa's vital signs stabilized, she was given a prescription for a blood thinner to take for a period of time while her heart function returned to normal. She went home, only to experience continued bouts of sudden pain. "It was like someone was stabbing me in the chest." And her heart rate would jump up, sometimes as high as 160 beats per minutes just standing and brushing her teeth. Over the next 27 days, she returned to the hospital three times.

"Carissa's body was having difficulty with the Coumadin that was prescribed to thin her blood. There was something unusual about the way her body metabolized it, so she wasn't getting the full therapeutic effect," explained Dr. John Murphy, a board-certified cardiologist with Brigham and Women's Cardiovascular Associates at Kent Hospital. Dr. Murphy treated Carissa and changed her medication to something that was easier for her body to metabolize. "For some people, Coumadin and other life-saving medications can be difficult to regulate," he explained. "Once we found the medication that worked best for her, she was able to heal properly."

Brigham and Women's at Kent

The clinical affiliationbetween Kent and Brigham and Women's hospitals brings advanced cardiac care from a leading heart center to the Kent community where a patient's care is coordinated. Kent's team of cardiologists, working in collaboration with Brigham and Women's Hospital of Boston, creates a regional center of excellence in cardiology. If a patient requires additional services, such as a specialized MRI or transplant, a seamless transition can be made to Brigham and Women's, allowing a patient to stay within the continuum of care.

Back to normal

After three months of blood thinners and nearly half a year for her heart muscle to regain strength and return to normal size, Carissa was able to resume her full schedule of activities.

Looking back, she can see the signs. Carissa originally thought she had bronchitis or might have been getting pneumonia because her chest felt heavy. She went to a walk-in medical center and was told it was nothing. In fact, she had very little blood flow, which explained the shortness of breath she had been experiencing.

She listened to her body and didn't hesitate to call 911. It saved her life.

Heart attack – Know the symptoms

If you think you may be having a heart attack, call 911. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. Medical care begins as soon as the ambulance arrives, and the ambulance team starts communicating with the hospital so they'll be able to continue the stream of care upon arrival.

Not sure if it's a heart attack? Call anyway. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Heart attack symptoms can be different for women and men. Sometimes your gut response that "something is wrong" is all you need to know.

Heart attack symptoms for men and younger people

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe middle or left chest pressure, "tightness" or pain that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back
  • Sustained discomfort or pain in one or both arms
  • Feeling of serious indigestion or heartburn
  • Nausea or sweatiness

Heart attack symptoms for women, older people and diabetics

  • Extreme fatigue or general sense of ill-being
  • Severe pressure, "tightness" or pain in the lower chest, upper abdominal area, upper back or jaw
  • Nausea, queasiness or sweatiness
  • Dizzy or lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
    • - American Heart Association

- By: Marcia Simon

Care New England
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