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February 19, 2014

Heart attack survivor shares importance of knowing symptoms

NORMAN — The constant heartburn while pregnant with her daughter was the first sign for Amanda Rowell that something was wrong.

She hadn’t experienced it when pregnant with her son but knew each pregnancy was different. Then came the pain shooting down her arm, along with weakness in her hand.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” Rowell said, “but I didn’t push it.” Being healthy and in her early 30s, a heart attack was the last thing on her mind.

But after having her daughter, Paisley, in January 2012, Rowell’s heartburn didn’t go away. She was told it was probably a gas bubble left over from her emergency C-section. At home after being discharged, things started going downhill.

That evening when getting into bed, Rowell started coughing, her heart began racing, she was dripping with sweat, couldn’t catch her breath and felt like her lungs were filling with fluid. She told her husband to take her to the emergency department. They then loaded the pajama-clad family into the car and drove back to the hospital.

At first, doctors thought Rowell had pneumonia, but they later discovered she had suffered a heart attack.

“A nurse came in and asked me, ‘If needed, do you want to be resuscitated?’ I was 32, had a husband, an 8-year-old son and a newborn daughter. I couldn’t believe I was in this situation,” Rowell said.

Given only a 5 percent chance of living, Rowell said that in medical terms, she shouldn’t have made it. Three weeks after being discharged, she had open heart surgery.

Heart attacks in women rarely look like the typical chest-clutching warning symptoms portrayed in movies. Symptoms of heart attacks in women are often more subtle signs like fatigue, nausea, jaw pain, sweating or weakness.

A recent study found that one in five women under the age 55 does not experience chest pain when she is having a heart attack, according to the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center.

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