Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Widowmaker

I think one of the most terrifying things about heart disease is the medical language. If you've never had anything wrong with you, congrats. If you have, then you know what I'm talking about. All of the sudden you find yourself on a crash course of anatomy and medical lingo. Doctors tend to have a rapid fire way of speaking over your head. Lucky for you I'm a blogger, not a medical professional. I like to break things down in my head into easy to understand language. I fully understand the "big words" and research everything that relates to what I'm told. I just don't speak that way. Very few of us do right?

When it's cold outside I have chest pain. I asked, and was told I was having "arterial spasms related to the environment." Yeah... So you're telling me I'm cold and shivering and it hurts. Why can't they they just say that? Lots of reasons. I can say it though and I try to. So let's start shall we? I'm going for the Widowmaker first. Let's go!

I think this is the worst nickname of all time. Congratulations artery, you get the grand prize. The Widowmaker is what doctors call the left anterior descending artery or LAD for short. Can you guess why it has such a grim name? Yeah, I'll bet you can.

My husband blanched white when my cardiologist explained it to him in the hospital. If you're going to have a heart attack, this little guy isn't the place to do it. The Widowmaker is the artery that powers the pumping part of your heart. That's the left side just in case you didn't know. It's the side that's bigger and hangs lower. No pump, no person. As if this wasn't bad enough, the LAD is twisty, bendy, and hard to get to. It also, they don't really know why, seems to block up very easily. A small amount of plaque in the LAD can rupture and cause a catastrophic heart attack. Once it's totally blocked you have a precious 5 minutes before heart damage starts and the heart stops beating.

An example of a devastating LAD attack is Tim Russert the news anchor who passed away so suddenly. An example of a LAD survivor is, well, me. See how lucky I am? I was rushed to the hospital, having a heart attack, and was medicated and monitored. My LAD was only partially blocked at the time. It wasn't until I was on the table and the cathe was already threaded to my heart that the blockage reached 99%. My precious 5 minutes began and ended in my surgeon's tender care. It doesn't get any better then that. I was patched up and sent home.

Here's a picture of your arteries. See that red wiggly one on the right? That's the bad guy. The 2D picture doesn't do it justice but you can get the idea of how it wraps around and branches out. Tomorrow may be a good time to go into how to fix such a thing but for now, do me two favors. Be impressed. Be very impressed with cardiac surgeons and what they can do. Also, if you could take care of your own arteries I'd appreciate it. Now that you know you have a body part called the Widowmaker I hope you'll treat it with a bit more respect then I did mine.


  1. Thanks Gillian for an interesting article on the Widowmaker. I just survived the exact occurance as you and didn't realize how lucky I was until a nurse told me where exactly my stent is. My artery was a dissection, meaning it tore, which come to find out is very rare. I appreciate every day to the fullest now, thankful that when I open my eyes in the morning, I've been given another day!

  2. The Widowmaker knocked me out twice on New Year's Eve 2010. I am 53 and feel as fit today as ever but might keel over any minute now -- that's the nature of these things I've learned. If she does finally get me, it won't be because I didn't put up a fight: I eat right; lost about 40 lbs. and workout 5 and 6 times a week. The Widowmaker can kiss my behind!

  3. I too had a spontaneous dissection of the LAD. They didn't do a thing for me except to tell me to "have a nice life". Mine was too much like mush to put in a stent and too extensive to by-pass. Taht was in 1987. Party on!

  4. 53yo male - I collapsed enroute to a meeting with EMT's who were waiting for me in a building across the street. Fortunately I fell backwards in front of the hospital emergency room. A doctor, outside on a break, found me. I woke up the next day denying what I was told, "You had a heart attack called the widowmaker"

    I had a full heart workup 10 weeks before the event; heart MRI, stress test, heart sonogram, blood tests all within normal limits.

    I felt nothing. No pain, just a little sweating on a cold day. I coded 3 times but they brought me back. Out of the hospital in 4 days. 10 days later, multiple pulmonary blood clots that restricted my ability to breath. 11 days later and everything is normal again.

  5. Oh Mrs. O'Daniel..........Can I ever sympathize with you my dear.......:) April 4, 2011......Push STOP and then RESET.....quite quickly I must say......:)
    Lucky me I am in a fair shape and had a bit more than the standard "5 minutes".......Dancing a lot does bring its rewards...called collateral gained me another 40 minutes to an hour......:) Still, when all is said and done.....and knowing that genetics where not in my favor.......I'll tell you. To anyone out there who knows that there is a significant family history of such.....Start taking that daily baby aspirin. Even if you are in your 20' such. It just might likely spare you the news that are coming. Genes are a powerful force, and do not find this comical. Genetics and family history are the most accurate predictors of such events. One aspirin, every just might make all the difference.......go figure.....Still, grateful to be about and grateful to the wonders of current interventional cardiologists........Those people who have made these events part of our daily life. AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!! Father, uncles, aunts, cousins have fallen to this situation. But, I survived. Thank You all. And, to all those who might read this one and find themselves in a similar situation. Please, daily aspirin, and take the time to see your doctor at some point. It might just make all the difference between "dropping out of this World" and planning your next vacation with your family. Simple choice in this book.........:)

  6. Jan 2009 i beat the widow maker. The doctor ordered the stress test, the technician and nurse stopped the test, got the cardiologist, he gave me the news, the next morning the stent was put in. For about 2 months i was getting pain in my shoulders and arms while on the treadmill, i actually controlled the pain intensity by how fast i jogged. The doctor told me the only reason i survived is because i am fit. Its hereditary. Was 57.

  7. I was set to have a heart cauterization done on May 11th to examine why I was having chest pains. I ended going to emergency on May 10th. When I went to see the cardiologist 2 weeks earlier he prescribe nitro pills and beta blockers for me. Thank goodness I had those nitro pills on the 10th or I may not have made it to the 11th. My widow maker was 90% blocked when he went in and put in a stent. I thank God for His keeping power and I thank all of those who were praying for me from the time I went to the emergency until I came out of surgery a success story.

  8. I was lucky, 53 years old 6 sixs 4 grandkids great wife and life.
    I was feeling a little discomfort in my chest over the past few weeks. Something was wrong and I took my time getting things checked. When I went to the doctor the ekg indicated nothing wrong. Having a relationship with a great doctor helps. He sent me to the emergency room. Blood work showed problems, within an hour on table and work began. 99 plus percent blockage. I was informed that if I had not walked into the emergency room that day I would have been a dead man. Listen to your body only you know it. Take care