Life, Death, and the Magnet or The Difference A Magnet Can Make
Rina Guy contacted the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center Clinic for Women due to a family history of cardiovascular disease. She received comprehensive instructions regarding measures to take to ensure her cardiovascular health and an overview of gender specific symptoms of a heart attack. Rina did not know that the magnet she received from the Center would play an important role in saving her life only a few months later.
Six months ago, after a series of consultations at the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center for Women Clinic, The Pollin Center nurse gave her a magnet that lists the symptoms of a heart attack in women. Rina took the magnet home and put it on her refrigerator. She had no idea that this magnet would one day save her life.
Rina, age 68, lives in Herzliya. She has three children, holds a Ph.D. and before retiring two years ago, she was a researcher at Hadassah Hospital and the Director of Medical and Life Sciences at the National Science Foundation.
“I worked a lot until I turned 66,” she relates. “I loved working. Two years ago I decided it was time to retire. It was a conscious decision, and not related to any health concerns. I went on a lovely trip to South Africa, afterwards I began to lose weight. I lost 20 kilos. I went for a number of different tests. The doctors were worried that perhaps I had a tumor. Finally, I was diagnosed with MSA, or multi-system atrophy, a rare degenerative neurological disease that affects different systems in the body. It develops quickly, and with no known treatment, its diagnosis was quite frightening. Fate had an ironic surprise in store to celebrate my retirement."
“The disease has various symptoms, including problems with balance. Five months ago, I could still walk normally, but then things deteriorated and I started using a walker. I began to experience pain in my joints and other parts of my body. I attributed it all to the neurological disease.”
Rina's family has a history of heart problems. Her father died of a myocardial infarction at the age of 50. Her older brother suffered a heart attack at the age of 54. Her younger brother, who is a very athletic, also had a heart attack and had to undergo heart catheterization at age 58.
“Due to my family history, the doctors recommended that I undergo extensive cardiac testing. So a little over six months ago I went to the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Hadassah Hospital,” continues Rina. “I had the tests and everything looked normal, except for high cholesterol. Before I left, Dr. Osnat Keidar gave me a magnet that listed the symptoms of a heart attack for women. It was only then that I became aware that the symptoms for men and women are different. It is due to lack of awareness that women do not correctly identify heart attacks and are therefore more likely than men to die from heart attacks.”
The magnet was stuck onto the refrigerator, alongside magnets from weddings and those advertising businesses, and it waited patiently to play its life-saving role.
"About two months ago, I woke up at 5 am,” Rina recalls. “I didn’t feel well, but since I attribute everything to my disease, I assumed feeling ill was also connected to MSA. It happens to me a lot so I wasn’t anxious. When someone healthy suddenly has strange symptoms, she will treat them as a warning that something is wrong and rush to the hospital, but when you already are sick with something else, it is more complicated.
“Throughout the day, until noon, I mostly had very bad heartburn and pain in my hands. I managed until midday, and then the heartburn got much worse. I told my husband that it was all very strange. I took another Nexium pill but it didn’t help. I tried drinking milk and taking other medication to reduce the heartburn but nothing helped. Then I said to my husband, “Let’s see what’s written on that magnet from the Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Hadassah and see if any of my symptoms are listed there.
“I looked at the magnet. There were a number of different symptoms listed: dizziness, chest pain, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, shortness of breath, pallor, fainting, and cold sweat. I didn’t exactly have any of the symptoms listed, so I initially decided that it couldn’t be a heart attack. But since the pain continued, I told my husband we should go to Hadassah. The ER would certainly know what to give me.
“We arrived at the emergency room, where they did an EKG and immediately told me that I was in the middle of a heart attack. It was so obvious that there was no need for further tests. In less than an hour, I was undergoing catheterization. They found a clot in one of my arteries and put in a stent. I was hospitalized for five days afterwards to recuperate. I got to the hospital just in time. I was lucky that I suspected that it wasn’t something connected to my disease but something else entirely. The refrigerator magnet made me wonder, because of the range of different symptoms, and that was what saved me. The cardiologist who treated me said I was lucky that I arrived in time and hadn’t waited any longer.”
Magnets for all my friends
“After this ‘experience’,” Rina adds, “I understood that many of my other symptoms were in fact also heart disease symptoms. For example, pain in my hands and difficulty walking. After the catheterization, all these symptoms disappeared. They were not part of my neurological disease but were connected to heart disease.
“I learned the hard way that the symptoms of a heart attack in women are really different from the symptoms in men. I didn’t experience any of the early warning signs I had heard about. I had different symptoms and these symptoms were very obvious, only that I didn’t know to connect them to a heart attack because of my neurological disease.”
Based on your experience, what do you recommend?
“It is essential to raise awareness. It is important to be aware of the heart attack symptoms unique to women. And it is extremely important to pay attention to every symptom. Being alert can save your life. Particularly for older women, who have additional medical conditions, the ability to identify heart attack symptoms is critical because women have the tendency to suppress symptoms or attribute them to other things. All my friends are scientists and when I told them what had happened to me they were surprised. None of my friends would have thought that my symptoms indicated a heart attack.
“You just have to pay attention, and even symptoms that do not look like a classic heart attack can be just that – a classic heart attack.
“Because of my experience, my husband took more magnets from the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center and gave them to my friends who had come to visit. This awareness, this attentiveness, can often mean the difference between life and death. I hope my experience will help raise awareness and save more lives.”
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