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Heart Attack at age 42

By Andrea King Collier
Photo by Chris Holmes

MaryRose Hecksel was the picture of health—until she had a heart attack at age 42.

MaryRose Hecksel was always conscientious about her lifestyle. “I ran three to four days a week and ate lots of fruits and veggies,” the 42-year-old says, although she admits to a love of ice cream. MaryRose worked hard to keep herself well for her family, which includes her husband, Rob, and three young daughters, Sally, Alexa, and Maya. “I knew it was important to take good care of yourself,” she says.

But in the fall of 2003 her life changed. “It started out as a usual day. I had a migraine headache so I took an Imitrex (a prescription drug for migraines) and lay down for a while,” she says. Feeling better after her nap, she got up and went for a 3-mile run. Later she took one of her daughters to ice skating practice. When she got home, MaryRose grabbed a laundry basket to take it upstairs.

“I began to feel very tired, so I sat down to read to one of the girls. Then I began to notice a burning in my lungs,” she says. “My left arm started to feel numb and then my right. I went into the kitchen and took an aspirin. I knew something was terribly wrong and I needed help right away.”

She called her husband, who is an emergency medical technician and a firefighter. “He knew from his professional training what was going on, but he seemed to be in disbelief,” she says. 

Warning Signs          
Like MaryRose, many women—especially younger women—who experience symptoms don’t realize they may be having a heart attack, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., cardiologist with Total Heart Care in New York City.
“What MaryRose experienced is very typical of what happens with women,” Goldberg says. “Many are told or they tell themselves that the symptoms they are having couldn’t possibly be a heart attack and are sent home or never even go to the hospital to get checked out. Because a woman’s heart attack symptoms are often different from a man’s, she can go from doctor to doctor, trying to figure out what’s wrong. By the time she does get a diagnosis, her heart disease is probably more advanced, and she is more likely to need angioplasty or bypass surgery to remove the blockages.”

MaryRose agrees, and she acknowledges having symptoms that she didn’t consider at the time to be warning signs of heart disease. “I had noticed some heart palpitations in September of 1998,” she says. “My family doctor had recommended a nutritional approach to treating the problem, focusing on magnesium, calcium, and zinc.”

In March 2003, MaryRose experienced more palpitations and irregular heartbeats, so she started taking the recommended supplements again. 

“At night, sometimes while lying down I would feel chest pain, but it would go away after a while. If I breathed very shallowly, the pain wasn’t as sharp,” she says. However, she didn’t seek medical attention for her symptoms until September of that year, when she could no longer ignore them.

Continued on Page 2: The Road to Recovery
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