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When the medical team at Sanford Emergency Center told 62-year-old Roxanne Burnside she'd had a heart attack, she couldn't believe it. “I did?” she asked.

Just that evening she’d had a wonderful time walking in the Nov. 20 Fargo Holiday Lights Parade. Dressed as an elf, she handed out candy with other employees from Bell State Bank & Trust.

“We’d already walked a mile, no problem. Suddenly I got dizzy,” she says. “The lights blurred and down I went. That’s the last thing I remember until the ambulance.”

Bystanders who happened to be nurses responded immediately. They started CPR while a police officer ran for an automated external defibrillator to jumpstart her heart.

“A heart attack was the last thing on my mind but it shouldn’t have been,” Roxanne says. “My dad had his first one at 48 and my son had one at 38. When I got to my 60’s I thought ‘oh good, it skipped a generation.”

An angiogram showed Roxanne had two blocked coronary arteries. Both required stents. Two days later she went home. That’s when she thought back to possible warning signs.

“Just three days before the parade I’d been dancing and was completely out of breath,” she says. “I figured I was out of shape and needed to lose weight.”

Months earlier she’d worked at We Fest music festival. By the end of her shift she was so exhausted she could barely reach her car.

The whole past year she’d experienced unusual tiredness while walking laps at the mall.

“But never any chest pain,” she says, shaking her head.

Make the connection

Not all heart attacks include chest pain, as Sanford cardiologist Dr. Heeraimangalore Manjunath explains.

“Heart attacks can present in a very atypical manner, particularly in women,” he says. “Shortness of breath may be an early indicator of coronary artery blockages.”

Other less-common symptoms include lightheadedness and non specific aches and pains in chest and back.

“It's important to get these symptoms checked out, particularly if you're a woman with risk factors,” says Dr. Manjunath.

Risk factors include:

  • A family history of heart disease
  • Post-menopause age
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive

Preventing another heart attack

Within days, Roxanne attended Sanford’s outpatient Cardiac Rehab Program.

In addition to ensuring safe exercise, they teach important lessons on healthy eating, daily cholesterol and blood pressure medication, stress management and more.

“I’ve never smoked and I don’t drink, but I love beef,” says Roxanne. “Now I just eat it once a week.”

Cardiac Rehab manager Holly Boub emphasizes an individualized, positive approach. “We help people make changes that fit their lives,” she says. “A heart-healthy life is not a prison sentence. Life can still be very enjoyable.”

Your turn!

The American Heart Association recommends the following for women:

In your 20’s
  • Know your heart-health numbers, including cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Check your family history
  • Don’t smoke and avoid second hand smoke
  • Drink in moderation
  • Choose birth control carefully
Your 30’s
  • Tame your stress
  • Make your health a priority
Your 40’s
  • Strive for more balance, less stress
  • Make well-being a priority
  • Get regular checkups
Your 50’s
  • Monitor changes in your body and keep an open dialogue with your doctor
  • Know your numbers
  • Watch what you eat
  • Get physica
Your 60’s and beyond
  • Know your risk
  • Keep moving

Go Red this February

Roxanne’s heart attack woke her up to the importance of paying attention to her heart.

“I’m a little more scared now. If I had a symptom, I would absolutely go in and get it checked,” she says, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. “I’m so grateful for the help I received. So glad God gave me a second chance.”

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a heart checkup, see your primary care doctor. And let Go Red be your reminder to never ignore the warning signs of heart disease. Your family will love you for it.
Posted Date: February 2013