True Story: I was too late to prevent my heart attack

August 30, 2018, started like most other mornings. I woke, showered and got dressed. As I stood at the kitchen counter making my lunch, I began to feel just a little bit odd. There was a hint of what I thought was heartburn that I noticed in the upper back part of my throat. I took an antacid pill and pressed forward with my salad chopping.

I then noticed my left jaw. It didn’t hurt, really – I just knew it was there. I also began to feel a very slight fluttery feeling in my chest. The sensation was just below my clavicle and I could feel it just in the upper part of my chest. Overall, I thought I felt a bit anxious. I sat down on a bench in the kitchen and then moved to the couch to try to relax. Within another few moments, I felt a flushed feeling from my head down to my feet. A symptom I remember having felt before during bouts with a stomach bug: nausea and a sense of pending diarrhea, so off the bathroom I headed.

I remember passing the desk in the living room, but the next instant I opened my eyes to find myself lying on the floor. Still trying to make haste to the bathroom, I got to my feet only to open my eyes again and find myself face-down on kitchen floor. I had lost consciousness twice! I was now drenched in sweat.

About that time, my husband came in from having mowed the lawn and he insisted on calling 911. Good move, Rob! My husband was not typically home during this time, but someone, somewhere, was surely watching over me that day. I knew things weren’t right, but I honestly thought I was experiencing a stomach issue — heart attack was so far removed from my realm of reality.

Within five to eight minutes the EMTs arrived. I really had no idea of the severity of the situation – just that I wanted the odd bodily sensations I was feeling to cease. When I arrived at Anne Arundel Medical Center, a team of about 15 was waiting for me (never a good sign). The team took me to the catheterization laboratory – what organized, efficient, saviors they were! Led by Dr. Eric Ginsberg, I was “fixed” and in a recovery room before it even hit me what had actually happened.

A bit later, it finally sank in: I had a heart attack. But, how could that be? I am not a picture of health, admittedly; I am very overweight, and I am diabetic, but for the six or so months prior to this, I had been really focusing on my health. I was working with my primary care provider to get my blood pressure under control, and I was working on my diet and A1C (blood sugar test for diabetics) as well. I’d sworn off sugar and lost nearly 30 pounds. I thought I was “on it.” But, I have a family history of heart disease – my dad died at the age of 41 after having had two major heart attacks – and until recently, I didn’t take my diabetes too seriously.

August 30, 2018, could have turned out way worse, but it also never could have happened at all. While I am grateful for the amazing care I received, if I could go back, I would tell my 35-year-old self to take into account my family history of heart disease now. Because while I eventually tried to do the right thing, I was too late. Remember, six months of being healthy won’t reverse a lifetime of bad choices. Don’t let “too late” be today. You’re not immune to the “facts of life” just because you think you’re on top of things. It’s important to take all health issues seriously regardless of how bullet-proof you think you are.

At the end of the day, it’s better to be seen by a health care professional than to be viewed by grieving friends and family. I completed cardiac rehabilitation at AAMC, yet another wonderful group of caring and effective health care professionals. I have regular appointments with my endocrinologist and dietitian. I’m at the gym three times a week, and I’m focusing on my health.

The most devastating recollection of the entire event was the look on the faces of my husband and my two daughters when they walked into my room after the stent procedure. I’m doing whatever I can these days to try and ward off the pain I saw in their eyes and set myself up for a better future.

Learn your risk for heart disease with our free online heart health profiler at and take the first step toward having a healthy heart for life.

Karen is a 62-year-old heart attack survivor from Annapolis.

Originally published Feb. 21, 2019. Last updated Feb. 13, 2020.