Unlike Jack on "This Is Us," My Husband Survived a Widowmaker Heart Attack by Donna John

Heart Health
15 days ago
Unlike Jack on "This Is Us," My Husband Survived a Widowmaker Heart Attack

Last night we finally found out how Jack died on "This Is Us." When Rebecca said “widowmaker,” my heart skipped a beat. In 2016, my husband had a widowmaker. 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 “Jack” 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. 

The information on 30Seconds.com is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information provided through this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal health care provider.

Heart Disease Is the No. 1 Killer of Women: Here Are the Signs of a Heart Attack to Look For!

Trainer Bob Harper Had a Heart Attack: What Does This Mean for the Rest of Us?

Elisa All Schmitz 30Seconds
What a terrifying experience for you, Donna John . I am so glad your husband had a positive outcome. Thank God for Divine Intervention! Thank you for this helpful information. My dad had several heart attacks and ended up with quadruple bypass surgery a few years ago. The surgeon said much of his problem was genetics. So grateful for the advances in health care to save those we love. ❤️
Teacher Karen
What a story! So glad yours had a happy ending. Lifestyle makes a difference, but our DNA impacts our health and wellness too...and when it's a negative impact thank goodness for all the medical advances available!
Donna John
That is so true, Teacher Karen . It was a scary time, but we got through it. He's doing great.
Teacher Karen
That's wonderful!
Stacey Roberts
I can only imagine it must suck the energy out of you to recant this experience, but thank you so much for doing it. This is one of those things that a healthy person is at risk of just like what someone who’s considered unhealthy is and that’s what makes this one so dangerous.
First time I heard of this was from a doctor we’d just established with, in his late 30’s. He ate well, was an avid hiker and had a glass of wine occasionally. It was while on a hike he knew something wasn’t right so went straight to the ER. If he wasn’t a doctor, he’d be dead, but he knew the symptoms. He just never thought he’d be the sufferer.
And thank you for addressing the mental toll this takes, which is as important to be treated as the physical injury.
God blessed you are!
Donna John
The mental side of it was unexpected for me. Physically, he was OK straight out of the hospital. But mentally, it took a long time before things got back to "normal." So glad your doctor was OK! Thanks for sharing his story. Stacey Roberts
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead
Donna John : Thank you for sharing your story in order to help others. I'm so glad to hear that your hubby is ok. Thanks for shining a light on both the physical and the mental effects following a heart attack.
Meredith Schneider
Donna John thank you so much for sharing this. With the scare we had on Sunday I was a mess. I can't imagine how it would of been if he was in a worse condition. Sitting there waiting, wondering, thinking and crying. Like Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead said, thanks for sharing both sides of the effects. Love you! xoxoxoxo
Mindy Hudon, M.S., CCC-SLP
Thank you for sharing this Donna John How frightening this must have been!
Mike Prochaska
Wow that scary. Glad he ok
Roxane Goss
My husband wasn't lucky enough to survive his "widowmaker" heart attack. The entire situation wasn't handled properly and it was well over 1 1/2 hours before they even put a stint in. He passed after 2 days. It was one of the most traumatic situations I have ever survived myself. I am so glad that they are able to save more people that have them and I am so glad your husband survived Donna. What a valuable tip to share!
Donna John
I am so sorry, Roxane Goss . What a horrible thing to go through. Thank you for sharing your story with us, and one day may no one have to endure what you have. So glad you are part of our tribe. It's definitely a place you'll get support. Hope you consider contributing as well.
Roxane Goss
Thank you Donna John! That’s my prayer and hope too! I created a profile and have submitted my first tip and I’m waiting for it to be approved now. I hope to offer tips on grief.

join discussion

Please login to comment.

recommended tips

Some Coffee Drinkers May Be at Higher Risk for a Heart Attack! Here's Why!

Put Down the Snow Shovel, Your Heart May Thank You: Snow Shoveling Tips From a Cardiologist

Got 30 seconds? Sign up for 30Seconds.com and get the best of our tips each week!