In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal & Chief Executive Bryan Strawser tells a personal story about an experience he had this past week around his Mom’s heart attack and the importance of helping family, friends, and loved ones recognize the signs of cardiac arrest.
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Hello, and Welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath. And in this week’s episode, I want to tell a more personal story than I usually talk about here on the podcast with a little bit about an experience I had in this past week. I was awoken last Thursday morning by a phone call from my younger brother. I live in Minnesota, but I grew up about 10 hours from here in rural Indiana, where my parents and my brother, who is about five years younger than I am, reside. And my brother called to tell me that my mother had had a medical emergency and was en route to the hospital in an ambulance. It turned out that my mother had her first heart attack, her first real medical emergency in her 71 years of life. Fortunately, she’s on her way to a full recovery and is doing all of the normal post-cardiac issues and challenges that you need to work through after having a life-threatening medical emergency.
Like many women, my mother didn’t recognize that the signs and symptoms that she was experiencing were a serious cardiac issue because she thought of a heart attack as, I’m going to have searing chest pain and pressure. And that, that means I’m having a heart attack, and I should call an ambulance. Instead, she had this enormous shortness of breath that continued to get worse over several hours until she felt like she couldn’t get up off of the couch. She’d actually been up most of the night. Finally called my father on his cell phone. He was asleep at the far end of the house. After having this severe shortness of breath, she never had a feeling of great pressure or any searing chest pain. And we were fortunate that when she awoke my father, who is 74, after several hours of discomfort, that my father recognized the situation for what it was and immediately called 911, which dispatched paramedics.
Now, my parents live in very rural Indiana. It was a great place to grow up, in that there was very little crime, and there were plenty of people that cared about you, and a true sense of community. But it also means that you’re a long way from good medical care. At the time that I was growing up there 25 plus years ago, calling EMS meant that you got a basic life support capability, an EMT, two EMTs, and an ambulance. But now, they have paramedics. But it’s still a 12 to 15-minute wait for them to show up. So, as the paramedics arrived, they recognized the situation for what it was. They were out of the house in less than five minutes en route to the emergency room where she received some treatments, and then, went to a bigger hospital where she experienced a heart catheterization, and then, into recovery for several days before coming home and working through that. I arrived the next day at 2:45 in the morning and spent the next several days with my parents, getting them settled and helping my brother and my father with my mom.
The point of all of this is not to tell you my story so much as the lessons that I took away from this, that I talked about with my father, and my brother, and my mom, in the days after, when she was able to come home, that this was a reminder to us that we should make sure that our friends and loved ones understand what the signs and symptoms of a heart attack are and that they might present differently in a woman. So, let’s talk about the warning signs briefly, and you can learn about these at the American Heart Association at heart.org or really any important credible medical website.
The signs and symptoms of a heart attack in most people are the following: chest discomfort. That heart attacks may involve discomfort in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes. It may go away, and then, return. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. There can be discomfort in other areas of your upper body, pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, the neck, the jaw, or the stomach. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort. And there can be other signs including breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, and lightheadedness. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort.
But women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms and then, not the common symptoms. Women will often experience back or jaw pain, nausea, and vomiting, and shortness of breath. They present, women present heart attack symptoms quite differently. So, in my mom’s case, she experienced shortness of breath, and she later experienced some chest discomfort, but only after time. But the shortness of breath, the severe inability, the feeling like she was unable to catch her breath should have been the sign to her that there was something wrong.
In my mom’s case, quick thinking by my father, once he was awake and aware of what was going on, and rapid response and care by my small hometown county, rural Indiana EMS agency, and the local community hospital that they went to first likely saved my mom’s life. So, during this national preparedness month here in the United States, I hope that you take a few minutes to make sure that you, and your loved ones, and your friends know and understand the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and that you take some time to talk with your family about how to prepare and how to react in your own critical moment because those minutes really do count. That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. We’ll be back next week with another new episode. Be well.