Heart attack survivor says knowledge of heart disease saved her life

Celebrating her heart health month
Celebrate her heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. In February we celebrate American Heart Month.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. In February we celebrate American Heart Month.

The saying goes, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’ For Judi King, knowledge about a problem she thought she’d never have likely saved her life.

“I didn’t have high cholesterol or high blood pressure,” King said.

She is recovering from a heart attack she remembers clearly.

“We were doing fall yard work,” King said. “We had about a ton of 40-pound pellet bags to move. My husband can’t carry those because he has heart conditions of his own.”

Some of the common symptoms of a heart attack in women are sharp chest pain, pain in the neck, jaw or throat and even pain in the upper stomach area or back.

“It didn’t seem to be a problem,” she said. “I was doing other yard work.”

Then things began to change. It is possible for women to have a heart attack with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

“That night laying in bed I thought I had indigestion,” King said.

When she woke up the next morning she knew something was wrong.

“The indigestion was still there and I thought, ‘I have never really had heartburn like that,” King said. “Pretty soon it was shooting down my arm.”

Sometimes heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a person has symptoms like that according to the CDC.

“I asked the doctor if it had anything to do with the fact that I was lifting those bags,” King said. “He said, ‘Probably not.'”

Simple awareness brought her to Mayo Clinic Health System. Her heart attack was minor but catching this one likely saved her life.

After her surgery, the road to recovery began with one foot in front of the other. Heidi Grafft carries 20 of experience in cardiac rehab at Mayo Clinic Health System.

“Exercise is actually medicine,” Grafft said. “Exercise is extremely important especially in what we call secondary prevention.”

She said our life routine is an indicator of how our body will behave.

“We love these patients here,” Grafft said. “We don’t necessarily want to see them twice.”

They teach patients dealing with heart problems how to stay in rhythm at cardiac rehab.

“Safety is always at the forefront,” Grafft said. “Basically we try to maximize their abilities.”

“When I lost weight I lost it by eating less, but I wasn’t necessarily eating better.”

Another dose of good medicine is the mindset you bring to fix a problem.

“She [King] has a great attitude she is wonderful with the other participants,” Grafft said. “She works hard when she’s here.”

King said she is motivated to continue the lessons she has learned about active living.

“Why wouldn’t you do something that could help the process of healing,” King said.

CDC data shows only 56 percent of women are aware that heart disease is their number one killer despite education efforts. For information about heart disease in women click here.