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Wear Red Day urges women not to ignore sometimes subtle heart attack symptoms

By Mark Saal - | Feb 5, 2016
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Heart attack survivor Karen Hill, co-owner of Timbermine Steakhouse, had quadruple bypass surgery five years ago. She's pictured Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Ogden.

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Heart attack survivor Karen Hill, co-owner of Timbermine Steakhouse, had quadruple bypass surgery five years ago. She's pictured Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Ogden.

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Heart attack survivor Karen Hill, co-owner of Timbermine Steakhouse, had quadruple bypass surgery five years ago. She's pictured Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Ogden.

Karen Hill knows her right from her left. 

So five years ago, when the then 71-year-old South Ogden woman began having strange pains on her right side near what she describes as her “neck bone,” a heart attack was the last thing on her mind.

Hill had just lost her husband a month earlier to cancer. She admits she’d been feeling the strange pains in the final months of caring for him, but she just chalked it up to emotional stress. Besides, Hill was a bit preoccupied at the time, and the pain wasn’t on her left side, which — as most anyone can tell you — is the traditional side to feel a heart attack.

Hill said the pain got markedly worse on March 5, 2011. And it was starting to radiate up into her neck. Two words began forming in the back of her mind: “heart attack.”

On her way home, Hill decided to stop at the emergency room. Well, two emergency rooms, actually. Because just before checking in at McKay-Dee Hospital, she realized her insurance didn’t cover procedures there.

So, she drove herself to the other hospital in town, Ogden Regional Medical Center.

“I walked in the emergency room and said, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack,'” Hill said. The doctor confirmed Hill’s self-diagnosis. “She said, ‘You’re having a heart attack now.'”

Hill underwent a successful quadruple-bypass surgery, and today the part-owner of Timbermine Steakhouse in Ogden advises women to listen to what their bodies are telling them.

“Know your body,” she said. “If something comes upon you that’s different than you’re used to — if you felt something different than usual — go to the hospital.”

Or, dial 9-1-1. That’s good advice going into National Wear Red Day on Friday, Feb. 5. The event, part of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association’s “Go Red For Women” movement, encourages folks to wear red on Friday to show support for women’s heart health.

Jennifer Merback is the AHA/ASA’s communications and marketing director for Utah and Nevada. She said this year marks the 13th annual celebration of the event.

Merback said the goal is to build awareness that heart disease and stroke cause one-in-three women’s deaths each year — more than all forms of cancer combined.

“These are our sisters, our daughters, our wives, our mothers and our friends,” Merback said. “We all need to be aware of our greatest threat to women.”

Merback said that in the decade since National Wear Red Day launched, it’s been a huge success. Much of that success has been attributed to education and women taking better care of their health, according to Merback. She said we’ve begun to realize that heart attacks and heart disease aren’t just a “man’s problem.”

“Since 1984, more women than men die of heart disease,” Merback said. “I’ve been with the American Heart Association for 11 ½ years, and when they released that statistic last year, I about fell out of my chair.”

Theories abound as to why heart disease claims more women. One of those theories holds that, as caretakers of the family, women often put themselves and their health last, according to Merback.

Merback also sees the need for more education of both women and men in the community, and more gender-specific training for physicians.

“Women were experiencing these symptoms,” she said, “and when they’d visit the doctor with heart attack-like symptoms, he’d tell them, ‘Oh, you’re too young,’ or ‘Oh, you’re a woman.'”

The Go Red for Women website says 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke are preventable.

Awareness is key, according to Korina Lee, exercise specialist with the cardiac unit at Brigham City Community Hospital in Brigham City.

“For women, the biggest thing is they don’t think it’s a heart attack,” Lee said. “They’re more likely to have the less-common symptoms.”

And women are less likely to default to the thought that a medical problem could be a heart attack, according to Lee. When a man has pain in his chest or arm, he immediately wonders, “Could this be a heart attack?” When a woman has a similar pain, she tends to dismiss it as something less serious.

When there’s any question, Lee said, “It’s good to get it checked out.”

The American Heart Association’s website says heart attack symptoms for women include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one (or both) arms, the neck, the back, the jaw or the stomach
  • Shortness of breath with or without discomfort in the chest
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

The heart association says that the most common symptom is chest pain or discomfort. However, women tend to be more likely than men to have some symptoms, including shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Actress Elizabeth Banks drives this point home with a public service video she directed and starred in titled “Just a Little Heart Attack.” The three-minute video uses humor to show a busy mom getting her family ready for the day, all while fighting off the symptoms of a heart attack.

As part of this year’s National Wear Red Day, the Brigham City Community Hospital is hosting its second annual Red Dress Concert at 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, at Box Elder Middle School, 18 S. 500 East in Brigham City. The concert will feature The Legendary Joe McQueen Quartet with opening act Rich Bischoff. Tickets are $7 in advance (brighamcityhospital.com) or $10 on the day of the show (cash only). All proceeds benefit the American Heart Association, and audience members are asked to wear red. For information, call 435-734-4337.

Another Red Dress Event, sponsored by Ogden Regional Medical Center, is planned for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Ogden’s Union Station, 2501 Wall Ave. in Ogden. This concert will feature the Chamber Orchestra Ogden. Tickets are $5, at the door. Again, red attire is encouraged. Call 801-624-9232 for information.

Karen Hill, one of the more than 627,000 women who’ve survived heart disease since Wear Red Day first started, said she’s just grateful to be alive.

“Every night I think, ‘I hope I don’t have a heart attack, because I’ve got a lot to do tomorrow,'” Hill said.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.

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