ONALASKA, Wis. -- It's bunko night for the women in this Onalaska neighborhood. "We rotate houses. Sometimes there's 12 of us, sometimes as many as 30. 'It's a good group."
Sandy Wiegman is a founding member of the league and has even joked on occasion about the great company she keeps. "Strangely enough over the last several years I have said to my husband that because there are several doctors and other medical people that come to Bunko, if anything ever happens to me, I hope it happens at Bunko because I'll be in good hands."
Little did she know how true those words would become.
Bunko night this past January started like any other night. "Had barely walked in and someone handed me a glass of wine. And all of a sudden I just started getting extremely hot. But that's when all the excuses started because I was standing very close to a fire place."
Sandy quickly sat down but soon began feeling light headed. "And that's about the time that Kelley Bahr and Jen Luce walked in the door."
Kelley Bahr is a family medicine doctor at Gundersen Lutheran and Jen Luce is an employee at Mayo Clinic Health System. "Someone came up and said, can you take a look at Sandy because something's just not right." "She wasn't feeling good. She was light headed." "She was sitting in a chair and looked very pale."
"By then I was starting to feel some pressure." Kelley and Jen both recognized the symptoms as a possible heart attack and recommended they call 911. "She said no, no, no." "She thought she was having an anxiety attack which she had had in the past" "The thought of having a heart attack wasn't even on my radar. I thought you had to feel a whole lot worse to be having a heart attack."
"She got a little sweaty. She said she was feeling sick to her stomach." "I did wind up vomitting a little."
More signs. And again Dr. Bahr advised they call 911. "I argued with Kelley some more and told her no, no, no. I'm just getting the flu. Excuses all around. She said, 'we'll then I am calling Bob.'"
Sandy's husband Bob was in a meeting when one of the woman from Bunko showed up. "Sandy's not feeling well. You really need to get over there. So I pulled up in front of the house and left the car running and ran into the house and they took me to the bathroom where Sandy was laying on the floor."
"When Bob got to the house I said, 'my gut told me 15-20 minutes ago that we should have called the ambulance." "We loaded her up in the car and said, 'you cannot go home. You need to go straight to urgent care.'
"I kind of said sure, ok, I guess. Sandy didn't want to."
Begrudgingly, Bob and Sandy headed to Mayo clinic in Onalaska. "Within a few minutes I had an EKG and blood work and the doctor came back in and said, 'You've just had a heart attack.'"
It turns out, Sandy was one of the lucky ones. She has spent the past few months working with the cardiac rehab team at Mayo. "It's like having your own little group of cheerleaders."
"Be proactive with your care. Be vigilant. The symptoms of women are different then men. Not a crushing chest pain. But fatigue, shoprtness of breath, pain between the shoulder blades all can be signs for women."
"I was a little light headed, pressure on my chest. Never any pain. And then I was nauseous. They were such simple symptoms that you could have any time."
Bunko league continues for this circle of friends but they have all learned a lesson.
"We can all be fooled by heart disease. You never should regret going to the hospital and getting sent home. But you will regret it if you keep them home and they have a heart attack."
"I go back to being at the right place at the right time. Thank you Kelley Bahr and all the wonderful ladies that were there to give me the push I needed."
"Had that not happened, things would have been different today. Is that scary to think of? Yeah. She's my very best friend and I don't know what I would do without her."
"It's sort of cliche' to say you look at every day as a gift, but it's really true. It does change your whole life."
Sandy is the honorary survivor at The American Heart Associations 'Go Red for Women' luncheon' in La Crosse. It's an event to help raise awareness and funds to support research, education and community programs to benefit women's cardiovascular health. The luncheon is Wednesday, July 25th from noon to one in the Cargill room at the Waterfront in downtown La Crosse. If you are interested in attending the event, or would like to learn more, check out www.lacrossegored.com.