The date is Thursday, April 25, 2013 and Beverly Hall, 48, is about to make a series of important, yet seemingly unrelated decisions. Her husband recovers on the 4th floor at Hillcrest Medical Center following a scheduled total knee replacement. Beverly decides at the last minute to spend the night to help take care of him. The following morning, she is there when the physical therapist and occupational therapist arrive to help her husband dress and take his first steps down the hallway. She follows him, watching his progress as he walks down the hall and back to the room.
“All of the sudden I started feeling horrible,” Beverly says once she sits on his bed. “I had pain in my chest and back and my hands were tingling. I thought it was a panic attack.”
As the therapists and nurses continue to care for her husband, Beverly’s symptoms worsen. “I couldn’t take in a full breath, because my chest hurt,” she remembers. Although Beverly has a history of anxiety, she makes another important decision and asks the nurse to take her blood pressure. At this point, she is drenched in sweat and sick to her stomach.
The nurse asks her if it feels like something is sitting on her chest. When Beverly responds “Yes,” a team of hospital staff enters the room. Quickly, Beverly is placed in a wheelchair and whisked to the Emergency Room. As the nurses and staff begin administering chest x-rays, an EKG and start an IV, Beverly says the calming voice of one doctor explains what is happening. “’Beverly, you’re having a heart attack,’ she remembers the doctor saying at her bedside. “‘We’re going to do our very best to take care of you.’”
“I was crying,” she says. “I couldn’t get any air.”
Beverly is taken to the Oklahoma Heart Institute Cath Lab. Dr. Gregory Johnsen and his team are ready when she arrives. “When they are saving a life, they are on it,” Beverly says of being awake when the procedure begins. “Dr. Johnsen said, ‘You’re going to feel a stick and a burn.’” A stent is put in place where Beverly had a 100% blockage.
The mother of three daughters, ages 27, 21 and 20, says it all made sense looking back. The Tuesday prior to her husband’s surgery, Beverly recalls feeling tightness in her chest and short of breath during her walk. She happened to tell a friend, which sparked a conversation about the difference between symptoms of a heart attack for women versus men. Beverly says when she sat on her husband’s hospital bed she specifically recalled back pain as being one of those symptoms.
She also remembered her own risk factors. With a mother who suffered her first heart attack at the age of 45 and a grandfather who passed away from heart disease, Beverly had just made the “life-changing” decision less than a month prior to change her diet and start exercising. “I wanted to be here for our children,” she says.
Beverly says she is fortunate for being at Hillcrest Medical Center when she had her heart attack. “If having a heart attack is a good experience, that was one,” she says.
The heart attack, however, has opened her eyes to her health and that of her family. “It’s something we are in control of for the most part in the early stages, but we can’t see it,” she adds. In 2003, Beverly was worried about her family history. A heart catheterization revealed she had early stages of heart disease with a 20 to 30% blockage. “If I had stayed on top of it, this could have been avoided. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”
Beverly encourages others, especially women, to know their risk factors for heart disease and be proactive about their health. She will continue to follow a healthy diet, exercise and follow up with Dr. Johnsen to help protect against another heart attack. Her daughters, she says, will start making changes as well.