My Husband Survived a Widowmaker Heart Attack: 12 Things About Heart Attacks You Need to Know by Donna John
In 2016, my husband had a widowmaker heart attack. Because of what we describe as “divine intervention,” he survived. When he had the heart attack, he was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. An ambulance arrived within 16 minutes, and he had a stent inserted at 29 minutes.
How much do you know about widowmakers, or heart attacks in general? Here are some things to know from the Texas Heart Institute:
- A widowmaker is a 100 percent blockage in the main coronary artery.
- Without medical help, the survival rate of a widowmaker is zero, thus the name.
- Don’t be misled by the name – women can have a “widowmaker” as well.
- Heart attacks can be caused by plaque in an artery; a blood clot that blocks an artery; “vulnerable plaque” that ruptures and causes a blockage in an artery; and coronary artery spasm, where an artery spasms and narrows, blocking blood flow.
- There are two types of heart attacks, the most severe being an ST-segment-elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI, where the coronary artery is completely blocked and the heart receives no blood and begins to die (widowmaker). A non-ST-segment-elevation myocardial infarction, or NSTEMI, means that the coronary artery is only partly blocked.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) shows if you are having a STEMI.
- For men, chest pain is only one of the possible symptoms of a heart attack. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, sweating and nausea. Symptoms of a heart attack for women are different.
- The outcome of a heart attack depends on a few factors – what artery was blocked; if heart rhythm was disturbed; if the heart got blood from another source; and how soon the person received medical attention.
Here are a few things I learned going through the experience with my husband:
- The mental recovery after surviving a heart attack is much harder than the physical recovery.
- Don’t think you can’t have a heart attack because you’re in good shape and eat healthy. My husband had lost more than 40 pounds, was eating all the good stuff you’re supposed to, taking vitamins and exercising regularly. He was working out when he had the heart attack. (Read "Trainer Bob Harper Had a Heart Attack: What Does This Mean for the Rest of Us?")
- Don’t dwell on the fact that most people do not survive a widowmaker. Every time we got a new nurse or other medical caregiver on duty, here came the “you shouldn’t be here” comments. Well meaning, but anxiety building. Talk to friends and family about this, too.
- It'll take time, but life will get back to "normal." One day you'll wake up and realize you didn't think about it today. As soon as your doctor gives the all-good, get out and do the normal things you did together.
My husband lived. With all the medical advances many more are joining the “I Survived a Widowmaker” group. Eat healthy, if you smoke quit, exercise and try to reduce the stress in your life. That’s really all we can do. And if you’ve survived a widowmaker, take it as you still have things to do on this earth – and live your life to the fullest.
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