How will you respond to the symptoms of a heart attack?
Instead of watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, Joni Kraayenbrink (age 56) was preparing for the first flight of her life, departing from the Winneshiek Medical Center Emergency Department.
Joni had been home that afternoon having an ordinary day when she noticed a cramp flutter across her chest and down her arms, and a burning spasm developing in her upper back. Having rheumatoid arthritis, Joni was no stranger to aches and pains and did not think much of it. The burning in her back started to get more uncomfortable, so as many people do, Joni decided to take a pain reliever and lay down for a nap, hoping that rest would refresh her body. “I woke up with the burning spasm feeling still across my upper back and not being able to get comfortable. I asked my husband, Mark, to try to massage the spasm away,” says Joni. “He tried, but just couldn’t reach it. The spot seemed to be deep inside me.”
Unable to manage the increasing spasm in her back, the Freeport couple drove to the Winneshiek Medical Center Emergency Department. Upon her arrival, emergency staff immediately began their protocol to rule out any cardiac events.
Larry Barthel, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System physician at the WMC Emergency Department says that heart attack symptoms in women can be very different than the traditional symptoms one anticipates with a heart attack. He says, “Women are more likely to think they are sick with the flu or have indigestion. However, every minute counts when diagnosing and treating a heart attack, and Joni did the right thing when she came in for help.” He adds, “We would much rather someone come in and be wrong than ignore their symptoms – a decision that can be the difference between life and death.”
Joni’s blood work came back with levels indicating a heart attack could be occurring. Dr. Barthel decided to transfer her by helicopter to a larger facility with a heart center for care.
Joni spent three days in the Cedar Rapids hospital, undergoing tests and consulting with doctors. All the while, she relied on her faith to keep her strong. She says, “I knew people at home were praying for me and I relied on God to take care of this situation.” The tests revealed Joni had experienced a vasospasm, which is a temporary tightening of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood flow to the heart and, like in Joni’s case, can lead to a heart attack.
Once home, Joni began the difficult journey of understanding her new ‘normal.’ “I am always questioning the foods I eat but my cardiologist told me to not let this consume my life,” she says. To help Joni recover through exercise, support and education, she plans to begin cardiac rehab at Winneshiek Medical Center just as soon as the safest and most effective combination of medications for rheumatoid arthritis and her heart are decided upon by Joni and her care team. “I look forward to beginning cardiac rehab at Winneshiek Medical Center. It is right here in town and the staff are so knowledgeable and kind,” Joni says.
Joni views her experience as a kind of wake-up call for herself and other women. “I have had good friends increase their level of exercise and talk to me in depth about my symptoms. We all know heart attacks can be different for women, but it hits home when it happens to someone close to you.” She adds, “I hope my experience inspires other women to listen to their bodies and get help.”