NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s Women’s Heart Health Week, and Friday is Go Red For Women Day.
It’s an effort to raise awareness about a woman’s risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, it’s the leading cause of death for women in the United States.
But symptoms can be misdiagnosed, even silent, leading to devastating health consequences.
Women’s Heart Health Week: Kristine Johnson On Her Sister’s Life-Threatening Experience —
CBS2’s Kristine Johnson recently sat down with two women and their cardiologist for a revealing conversation about the realities of suffering from and surviving heart disease.
It’s a club that no one wants to be a member of. Rebecca Trahan and Melissa Dimmick are united as survivors of nearly fatal heart disease. Their doctor is Mount Sinai cardiologist Maya Barghash.
“I had just run 16 miles that day and I had blurred vision, and I was a migraine sufferer, so I thought, ‘Oh, I’m having a migraine,'” Trahan said.
Trahan didn’t think she was having a heart attack, but she had spontaneous coronary artery dissection, otherwise known as SCAD, and had a triple bypass. She was told it was a miracle she survived.
“I had 911 on my phone, I was going to push send, and I just waited it out. I just waited it out,” she said.
“Why?” Johnson asked.
“[I thought] it can’t be happening. I don’t want to be a nuisance. What if I’m just having a panic attack? What if they look at me and go, oh, you’re out of your mind?” Trahan said.
It was the same case for Dimmick.
“I went to walk-in care … I was really short of breath … I really honestly thought I was coming down with a cold and I was really nervous I was going to give it to my brand-new baby. It wasn’t really just a cold,” she said.
Dimmick, who had had a baby just days earlier, experienced postpartum cardiomyopathy, a rare but dangerous condition that can permanently weaken the heart. This can happen up to five months after a woman delivers.
“It’s OK that my hands were a little puffy and my feet were a little puffy and my blood pressure was slightly elevated. Everything that was happening, I could relate to being pregnant and not think that there was anything else going on,” she said.
She now has a heart defibrillator.
“All the reasons that you didn’t go or didn’t want to go, the same as Rebecca?” Johnson asked Dimmick.
“Pretty much. It was just one of those things like, I need to be home to take care of my son and who’s going to take care of him and who will take care of me if something’s wrong?” Dimmick said.
So why all the excuses?
“Women are, by nature, nurturing and, by nature, don’t want to put themselves first. They always want to take care of everybody around them,” Bargash said. “It’s very common for women to wait longer, in general, and have a longer time to get diagnosed, and there’s a lot of reasons that go into that. The symptoms can be a little bit different or atypical. Almost half of the time, women, in terms of heart attacks, don’t feel the crushing pain, but they feel things that they might think is indigestion or a stomach bug and things that don’t classically jump out to them.”
Women’s Heart Health Week: Mary Calvi On How Symptoms Differ Between Men And Women —
The women say recovery wasn’t just difficult physically but emotionally, too.
“It was six months or so after when I had done, achieved all the physical milestones that I had for myself that the emotional part just kind of wreaked havoc,” Trahan said. “And it wasn’t until I met some other survivors … I started to feel more normal or that I wasn’t alone that my emotional recovery began.”
“Mine was a little bit different,” Dimmick said. “All I wanted to do was hold my baby … It was hard. It was very, very hard in that aspect of, I’m a mom and I’m failing him because I can’t get up right this second and run around with him. It was a challenge to carry him up a flight of stairs when my heart is not helping me any, and so I had moments of that where I was just like, how come I drew the short straw?”
These women are speaking out to educate and to encourage others to get help at the first sign that something is wrong.
“They refer to a particular blockage in the LAD as the widow-maker, and I’m like, just stop saying widow-maker. It is also a widower-maker, so let’s stop making it about men,” Trahan said.
“Do you see me? This is postpartum cardiomyopathy 101. Pay attention,” Dimmick said.
“There are certain things we know make your risk for heart disease higher, and they’re basic things. Smoking. What’s your blood pressure? Are you overweight or obese? Do you exercise? Do you have diabetes? All those things that I mentioned are things that raise or increase your risk for heart disease and having those things checked and managed and under control by a doctor are key to preventing more heart disease,” Barghash said.
Trahan, once a marathoner, continues to run but now sticks to shorter distances and a slower pace. Dimmick recently lost 86 pounds and is on her way to a hopefully healthier future.