Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Widowmaker. This is what a heart attack looks like.

I got my first sad email last week. A person that had read my blog and corresponded with me before had a second "event." He's alive, and will be starting his second round of cardiac rehab soon. What's sad is that he KNEW he was having problems and didn't go get it checked
out. He didn't go to the hospital. Do you guys know what happened? Do you understand? Permanent, irreversible heart damage. He's never going to get better and he's going to die... much sooner than he should. After a few emails and a virtual hug of goodwill to my heart buddy I made him a promise. Full disclosure. Let's shine a harsh light on heart disease. This is exactly what a heart attack looks like.

The only editing I did to these pictures was to crop out my personal information. That's right guys, this is my very own heart. Let's take a deep, bracing breath and continue shall we? Look at the top image. That is my heart during a massive LAD heart attack. See the faint circle around the LAD that says Before? That's where my heart was failing. That's the blockage. See what's beneath it? You can see all the veins starving. That's my heart being strangled and starting to die. The whole thing looks wilted doesn't it? Now look at the bottom part of the picture. In a short bit of time I'd had a balloon angioplasty and a shot of nitroglycerin directly into my heart. Didn't work. Go big or go home right? This After picture was taken after I got my stent. Just LOOK at the difference guys. See how everything lights up? Notice the thickness of the LAD in the before and after. The difference is amazing! Notice the bloom of blood vessels that you couldn't see before underneath the blockage. That's my heart plumping back up and acting like it should.

These pictures were really hard for me to post so I really want you to look. Ask yourself this... Would you REALLY stay home and try to tough it out if you could see this? Does this look normal to you? Meet the Widowmaker. How do you think the LAD got that name? You don't stay home and tough out a Widowmaker attack. It's Death. The before picture could have been a swift end to my short life. It's a dying heart. What saved my life? I got help. I called for help and my husband saved my life. He made the calls and got me to the hospital. If I had stayed home I never would have woken up. This diagram was made by my cardiologist. There's my blockage. It qualifies as massive because my Widowmaker was little to begin with (I didn't know that.) and the blockage closed to 95%. Again, I cropped out the personal data but left all the grisly stuff for you guys to see.

After a year of tests we think we've narrowed down the cause. There appears to be a small kink in an already narrow Widowmaker. We think it's either a birth defect or a lesion caused by a childhood illness. As I got older plaque built up, I got stressed, and a heart spasm squeezed the plaque covered walls together sealing off the Widowmaker. A heart attack at 30. Go figure. I'll never know for sure because the stent is fixing the damage.

Now look at the poorly drawn little heart on the top left of the diagram. It says 40%. I had a swift response time and had surgery immediately to fix the blockage. After it was done? I had 40% of a working heart. Give me a break here. I'd had a rough day! All the tinkering on top of the attack leads to a stunned heart. I wasn't performing at my best. This is why you get tired and it's the source of heart attack fatigue. With just 40% of a heart working there's no way you're getting enough oxygen. Imagine powering your body with only half a heart. It's miserable guys. It took a year (And a lot of work.) but I'm fine now.

So there you go! This isn't a fun or funny post but I hope it serves it's purpose and fulfills my promise. I endeavored for full disclosure and you got it. I really want you guys to look long and hard at what a heart attack looks like. This is a Widowmaker. This is a blockage in a LAD. This is the leading cause of death. Go ahead and look at it. This is, or was, my heart guys.Look at these pictures and know this. I ignored all the warning signs and I paid a high price for my stupidity. I forced my frantic husband to literally carry me into an ER. I scared my family and made them endure the agony that is the surgical ICU waiting room. As for me, I had a slow, painful recovery, a boatload of expensive medication, and cardiac rehab. All while experiencing the joys of heart attack fatigue and angina.

Would you wait with this for treatment? You don't fight this and you can't wish it away. Please, please hear me and my friend when I tell you this. There is NO minor reason for chest pain. There is NEVER a time when it's okay. Felt a sharp pain and it faded? Call 911. RUN to the doctor. Please go get it checked. Get the blood work done. Know your blood pressure and treat it if you must. My friend wants you to learn from his mistakes and I hope you do. Scroll back up and look again. Would you wait? I really, really hope not. Make me proud guys and take care of yourselves!


  1. I can understand how hard it would be for you to post this, but I'm glad you did. It's impossible for any of us who haven't been through any sort of heart trouble to fully understand the pain and dangers involved, so we need to hear it from those who've suffered through it. I can honestly say that since I started reading your blog I have been more concerned about taking good care of my body...that's part of what went into my decision to join a gym and get healthy and fit again. It also went into my decision to not eat greasy fast food (although I do admit to the occasional taco...).

    Keep writing about it. Keep letting us know. And know were're proud of you and we're glad you survived to tell this story.

  2. wow. just... wow. so glad you got through this ok. and thanks for sharing all of this.

  3. Good to see the pictures. I had 2 blockages in that artery in January. Never knew what it looked like-only how it felt. According to an echogram in May, my heart totally healed. I was one of the lucky ones. The right nutritional supplements also greatly help. Thanks for posting the pictures. Thanks to you I know what the stents look like and now what the heart looks like in the middle of an attack.

  4. Thank you for being brave. Thank you for sharing your story... your struggles and your victories. Your LIFE is an inspiration, and your WORDS are a gift... beautiful, honest, and true. You are saving lives, and I cannot think of a higher calling.

  5. Thank you so much guys! You all make this little blog worth it. Jean... wow. Congrats on the progress and I'm glad I could help! You are one brave girl and an inspiration to me.AEB, you made me teary! Love you guys!

  6. Gillian - Deja vu! Your photos look exactly like my husband's did - somehow in the chaotic happenings at the hospital, I was given before and after pix of my husbands angiogram. He was very lucky in the fact that his full blown massive widow maker happened right in the ER room! And he was treated very quickly -(8 shocks, 30 minutes cpr; followed by a stent). As someone said above, you are an inspiration. Keep the blog going. I have been following you awhile now, and when you go too long between posts, I worry about you!! Thanks for all your informative posts and the posts that show us how you are just having a normal life!

  7. I am recovering from a massive widow maker heart attack and emergency double bypass surgery. I am 40 years old and the mother of three children. I'm a runner and fit, with no risk factors or family history and perfect cholesterol. The doctors cannot explain why it happened. My ef is 30 now. I am wearing a defibrillator vest around in hopes that my heart function will improve some more before they make a decision about surgery for a defibrillator, but I'll probably need one. Good luck to you and best wishes, hopefully this never ever happens again and we live nice long healthy lives.

  8. My dad just survived a widowmaker heart attack and almost died. His LAD artery was 100% blocked. If my brother hadn't have called an ambulance, he would have been dead. My other brother notified me stating that 9 doctors and other medical personnel were working on him and now I know why. He was in the hospital for 9 days and we are so glad he survived. Hopefully, he won't have any more because I don't think he would survive the next one.

  9. One of my neighbors had a widowmaker heart attack and lived to tell me about it. Which is one of the reasons I decided to look it up today.
    The day of my 28th birthday, I began having severe chest pains. The very next day, I went to the nurse's office, just before I started my shift at work, and she immediately sent me to the hospital. I spent nearly five hours in the ER undergoing multiple tests and the doctors said they found nothing wrong with me..I'm in excellent health, and yet, they prescribed me Lortab 7.5's and an inhaler, just in case.
    Two weeks before this event took place, I had a blood test taken because of dizziness problems and the results came back average or above normal. The doctor even gave me a printout of my results with a comparison chart.
    My second reason for researching heart attacks is that it has been more than three weeks since the event, and I STILL have the same chest pain. It doesn't really get any better, it's just a steady, sharp pain, which feels like I got hit square in the chest with a claw hammer. At times, it hurts so bad I can barely breathe, and the inhaler does nothing for me, what-so-ever. Your article definitely cleared up my understanding of what causes heart attacks, but I'm still unsure what is wrong with me. Hopefully, I'll eventually find, and fix, the issue. And I hope you are still alive and well.

  10. Hi My name is Barbara i'm 43 and I have widowmaker disease, I thought it was nothing, I felt like I had slept wrong on my pillow and that I had pressure on my chest and my arm felt like i had washed 30000 windows it was just so heavy , what I was that I was having heart attacks for two weeks , my daughter is a nurse and I didn't say anything to her once I had enough I called her she stated that 80% women don't have pain in the left are or in the chest it is neck , shoulder , back , stomack, and right arm , now i'm found that I have this , I have no Insurance my husband is disabled don't let that stop u from getting treated .

  11. wow! My husband just went thru this 4 days ago. Fit, 51, chol. around 208 but good LDL and HDL. Low fat diet, very lean and fit. Had a stent placed. WE FEEL LIKE HE'S BEEN GIVEN A SECOND CHANCE! Found unconscious on the road with his bike. no warning signs other than feeling tired lately.

  12. I had warning signs for about three years and didn't know they were.

    I would get a sour taste in my throat followed by a moderate discomforting pain in my chest that would last for about 10 seconds, then would go away and come back again a few minutes later...repeating this cycle about 5 or 6 times at night. This went on for several days (about three years before my heart attack) and then went away for good, or so I thought.

    About two weeks before my heart attack, those same symptoms returned -- I immediately remember that taste and discomfort as it is very distinguished from anything else I have experienced. These symptoms repeated itself just a few times over a couple of weeks.

    On New Year's Eve at about 6:30 in the evening, I was on the couch watching a football game when that sour taste and discomfort returned. I sat up and fully expected it to go away in a short while -- it didn't go away this time.

    The sour taste in my mouth and chest "discomfort" evolved in to an indescribable sensation that I can only attempt to describe as maybe a panic attack, nervousness and high anxiety all rolled into one. It was a feeling not of PAIN, but of: "something terrible is happening to me and I feel like I am going to die."

    After scaring my wife nearly to death by telling her that I am tremendously sick and need to ge to the emergency room, I had to grab the front door as we were going out because I felt like I was about to pass out right there. After just a few seconds the dizziness passed and that's when the sledge hammer hit me in the chest.

    My wife called 911 and even though I coded twice in the hospital, the stent was successful and I made it. I have some damage to the heart but my EF is at 43 and so not as bad as it could have been, obviously. I keep regular with my medicines and exercise and eat much better nowadays. AND...just hope for the best.

    My advice to EVERYONE: if you experience some sort of UNUSUAL discomfort, get it checked! Get it checked because we are not supposed to HAVE "unusual" discomfort...if you don't know what it is and can't explain it -- have it checked out, please! Had I had myself checked when I experienced the sour taste and discomfort that first happened almost 4 years ago now, I might very well have never have met the Widowmaker.

  13. I had the widowmacker 8/16/2006 at the age 46. I drove myself to the hospital and my only symptom was shortness of breath. I had 99% blockage and a stent was put in and saved my life. Since that day I have changed my life around by diet and exercise. I am now 70lbs lighter and my bp is normal with a cholesteral of 110. I was very lucky and I was given a second chance.I encourage anyone that goes through this to stay with the program and call 911. I was lucky that I didnt pass out driving or cause any further harm to my heart. My hospital was only 5 minutes away but that is no excuse.

  14. I had a widowmaker heart attack in June. I have had a defibrillator implanted. I'm at 25%. I am 53 years old with two teenagers left in high school and a son in college. I have shocking before and after pictures. I tried finishing payroll at work before I went to the hospital...didn't work...never wait , even if your wrong. In 1 more minute I would have died. If I had gone sooner maybe I'd be in better shape. I feel like I'm on borrowed time, I tire easily but am so grateful when I'm at one of my kids games because I'm here to do so. Thank you for your blog. I hope you continue to do well. Life is enjoy it, and take care of yourselves and those you not ignore chest pains, or any other changes in your body. Go Bless!

  15. I am so glad you have been given a second chance. My ex-husband did not have that chance and had a massive MI while he was home with our 8 year old son....Paramedics arrived within minutes, and my son got to witness them trying to shock his father back to life, and at the hospital I got to witness my ex husband (and also my best friend despite the ex status) still being rescusitated, and then finally calling the time of death while I was holding his hand and begging him to wake up. Please, I beg all of you...take care of your heart. Its the only one you will break other hearts in the process if you ignore your own. Medically this could have been prevented (religiously, who knows..only God does). He had angina symptoms a few months back and also received word that his cholesterol was high. Do not ignore your body.

  16. I am sorry you had to go through this but I am grateful that you are well and brave enough to tell your story. Please be well and be happy.

  17. 3/1/'12
    On Valentines day this year my daughter in law called me from another state to tell me she was in the hospital ED and that my 48 year old son had a heart attack.
    As the morning went on - phone calls constantly - she told me the cardiologist was calling the heart attack "The Widow Maker. Being a RN - my own heart stood still.
    My son died that evening dispite all efforts.
    He lived on antacids, had elevated BP, smoked, and probably did not always eat properly.
    Our family and his wife lost a wonderful, talented man. Please all of you that fit the above profile of signs/symptoms take care of yourself - it not only is a "Widow Maker" but also a heart breaker for all of us that lose our loved one. Thanks for this forum - this helps me just to put all this into words.

  18. Came across this after trying to do some research on the subject. My father is currently in the Hospital needing a quadruple bipass. The 3 MAJOR arteries are 90-95% blockage and he also has a 4th with blockage. Problem the doctors keep bringing up is that he is diabetic and overweight, and post recovery could prove a disaster. Praying for the best. Thank you for sharing this information with the public, really appreciate it! Stay Healthy!

  19. Kelli
    My dad is a survivor of a widowmaker- he was LUCKY!
    Thanks to the quick response of my mom and the the team in the ER @ St. Anthony's in Gig Harbor, Wa. He is here to enjoy his 2 nd chance. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and the images. Eat and be Healthy :)

    1. I am a 48 year old male. I considered myself in good shape. I exercised everyday on a treadmill for forty minutes. Then over time I started to have problems. I had to stop every ten minutes and rest while on the treadmill. I started getting shortness in breathe going up the stairs and had chest pressure. I went to my family doctor and he sent me straight to a heart doctor. Two days later, I was in the hospital recovering from four stents. I had two +95% blockages at the split of the LAD and two other +95% on the bottom and back of my heart. The doctor told me that I had weeks to as little as a few days before I would of had a massive heart attack. He said I would not have survived. This all happened four years ago and I feel very good now with no heart damage. So, everybody, please if you feel any discomfort, get it check quickly.

  20. I am sitting here Thanking God that I am reading this right now. I had a Widowmaker heart attack last week in the early morning hours. In fact almost to the hour from this very moment. If not for my wife getting me to the hospital and the outstanding ER @ Piedmont Medical in Rock Hill SC I would have died. I was rushed into the Cath Lab after it was determined that the normal drug therapy was not working and an abnormal EKG they were able to locate the artery that was 100% blocked. I had my heart attack on the table and if not for the talented doctor and nurses of the Cath team (sorry still get emotional) I would not be here. I wish I had read this years ago and this could have been avoided. I have already had a second event from a week ago but have listened to every word my Doctors have stated about changing lifestyles, not smoking (big one), eating properly, and excercise. Life is to precious and my wife and daughter need me to be here. Listen to your doctors and get regular stress tests. Also listen to the warning signs that I did have a few weeks before the attack. If it doesn't feel right get to a hospital immediately.

  21. Last week I had pressure in upper chest while walking. I rested shortly and contined. A day later it happened again. The third time had had numbness in my chin and felt something was. Wrong. I made apt w cardio dr for six hours later not knowing I should hurry. Three people were in my store and I asked if anyone was a nurse. One was! I told her what was my husband and made arrangements to go earlier....still not knowing how urgent we stopped for a bite to eat. I had chicken soup.....then on to drs office where he did stress test....and sent me directly to cath lab where I had drug inducing stent put in for 95 percent blockage. Sent to recovery and went home the next day not even realizing how very fortunate I was! Until I started reading all of this information! I almostbwrotenit off as reflux!

  22. I just came home today from the hospital. Tuesday I awoke with severe chest pain. Kept thinking it was gas. Took antacids etc. I'm a nurse for goodness sake. After about an hour, then the dry heaves and sweating began. Truly thought I was dying (I was). Wasted another 15-20 mins trying to decide whether to go by ambulance or have my wife drive me. Denial kills people. We decided on EMS. They treated me and were able to alert the ED that a STEMI was on the way in. 2 mins inside the ED, my heart went into a lethal arrythmia. I was resuscitated 3 times and rushed to cath lab. 32 mins for door to balloon. 100% occulsion of my LAD (widow maker). I wasn't totally oblivious to my health. 3 years ago I had a normal cardiac cath. My cholesterol level was normal. However, I continued to smoke. Didn't think that 3 years would make such a drastic difference. I'm really not ignorant just kept denying it would ever happen to me. Some of us still have a purpose for being around. Now I am forced to make the changes that I should have made years ago. I have a second chance to watch my grandchildren grow up and continue down this road called life.

  23. My husband had heart burn for 2 days and thought it would just go away well he started getting short of breath and that is when i called 911 the emts even thought it was heart burn blood pressure was good and so was his palse it was the widow maker... he is 37 and now with a difibulator and has a ef of 35percent and now going throgh the process of getting on the transplant list please dont ever over look somthing thinking you have heart burn we are lucky to have him with us today. and now his work is trying to get rid of him after 14 years of working with them

  24. Mother is a survivor of this. she ignored it for a few weeks! go and get checked, it is worth the money!!! might save your life. scary scary scary.

  25. It is SO SO difficult to really understand what a heart
    attack actually is. My son had chest pains as if an ele-
    phant was on his chest.The ER found nothing.Later, he did
    develop Pneumonia and had similar pains for which he was
    I WISH the good doctors who have done extensive research
    would "spell it out"....and not worry us about cholesterol
    IF it's not truly a factor. **GOOD DOCS: Is having high
    cholesterol really the problem SINCE everything else is ok?? I mean, be truthful....

  26. My husband had the "widow maker" 3 years ago.He flat-lined three times in the ambulance on the way to the hospital! Thank God for our local EMS service personal!He was gray in color and had slurred speech when I arrived at our local hospital. One of the hospital staff was going to administer something thru and IV and again, Thank God for the EMS staff who stayed in the room to STOP the hospital staff person from giving something thru an IV that would have conflicited with the current IV flow and "KILLED" my husband according to the EMS staff that stayed at his side! He was transported by that same EMS staff to a hospital 75 miles away to a cardiac cath lab for an emergency stent placement! Praises go to the EMS staff (Former military paramedic)that followed thru on my husband's care! The next morning he was up and felt great to be alive! Since then we have made countless trips to the Dr. for check-ups and the like. He has done the cardiac rehab and was really in much better shape than before the LAD heart attack! He was told at a recent visit that his EF rate was at 75% and there is no visiable damage (scarring) to his to the heart on tests. He has been told by his Dr. that he can return to work! Since that visit he has chosen not to work, complaining that he doesn't feel well, etc. and not wanting to work or do anything I ask, except for his own hobbies! He plays mind games like "I suppose if I have to return to work I'LL have another heart attack!" I am the sole support of the family and feel as tho I have an "adult child" to support! Please don't get me wrong, but in 3 years he has made NO effort to return to his previous work or any other job for that matter. I have been taking work that requires heavy lifting (75 lbs.) and long hours! I am not a young woman anymore! I will have my 55th bithday soon! I don't feel like there is much hope for a better life anymore. Please think about this: "Heart attacks affect the loved ones just as much as the heart attack victim"

  27. 23 Sep, 2010, my left main completely blocked. My only symptom was beneath the center of the sternum like you feel in the palm of your hand after holding a tight fist for a minute or two. I was at the emergency room within 20 minutes of onset of symptoms, and they hooked me up to a dozen leads, stuck nitro under my tongue, poked O2 tubes in my nose, 4 IVs, a blood pressure cuff, took blood samples & I don't remember what else. My heart rate blasted away at 160 and slowly dropped to the low 30s and spiked at around 160 and kept repeating the cycle. The electrical trace was perfect. After the 3rd blood sampling (every 6 hours) they came in and said I had high enzyme levels indicating heart damage. They rushed me up to heart catheterization where they installed two stents in my left main. I was supposed to be dead with a 100% blockage, but the cardiologist said that over the years as the left main clogged, my heart had built up collateral circulation from surrounding arteries. All those years of running and bicycling paid off! Now, Sep 21, 2012, I am healthy, running and biking at age 66. My heart's ejection volume is only about 45% instead of 65-70%, but I can do almost anything I want as long as I keep my heart rate below 145.

    Exercise! And eat right! It will add life to your years, and maybe years to your life... It did mine!

  28. I survived the widow maker on August 7, 2012. No warning signs at all. It happened in the middle of the night. I was unconscious and struggling. My wife heard me and called 911 when she couldn't wake me. FD got there in 4 minutes. Got paddled 3 times, but thanks to the quick response, her giving me CPR, and a great hospital, I am in good shape. 2 stents, but no heart damage. I am very grateful for my wife and my spiritual community and a big shout out to the Cameron Park, CA Fire Stations 88 and 89. Thanks guys!

  29. My dad passed on friday from this kind of heart attack. stay well guys

  30. I'm a 41 yr old mom of three, i also have three beautiful grandbabies. I had my massive widowmaker in march of 2011. I stupidly ignored the signs and didnt get medical treatment right away...that decision almost cost me my life, my husband a wife, my kids a mom, and my grandbabies a grandma. I thank god everyday for a second chance! although i have a stent, defibrillator, and lots of medicine to take every day and an ef of 25% and i tire easily...i am so grateful for all the things i can still be to my family. So if anyone feels that they may be having symptoms of a heart attack...please seek medical attention really can be a matter of life or death. I am one of the lucky ones! my doctors cannot even explain why i am still here...but have told me that i must have an angel watching over me.