Emily Taylor hasn’t missed the Susan G. Komen 3-Day™ walk for breast cancer in nine years. Along with tens of thousands of other enthusiastic pink-clad advocates, the 48-year-old Northrup-Grummon administrative assistant makes the annual 60-mile trek in passionate support of her sister and other breast cancer survivors.
But Emily, a wife and mother of three, came dangerously close to missing her 10th Komen 3-Day in October. While on a training run a couple months earlier, the avid softball player and triathlete came face to face with a disease even more deadly for women than breast cancer.
A mile into her routine run, the Ramona resident felt something “really different.” She described it as a “very centered, deep chest pain.” Emily admits, “I didn’t think it was a heart thing.” She figured she’d pulled a chest muscle moving boxes days earlier. No big deal.
During a subsequent workout, not only did the chest pain return, but it was accompanied by an “odd feeling” in both arms. “This isn’t right,” she thought. So the next day, Emily headed to the Urgent Care at Arch Health Partners in Poway to get checked out. Good decision. Within hours, Emily learned what she was experiencing was indeed a “heart thing.”
While a breast cancer diagnosis can be terrifying, heart disease is actually the number one killer of women…more deadly, in fact, than all forms of cancer combined. Thankfully, Emily did not become a statistic. And she owes that fact to her own action and the prompt, professional care she received at Palomar Health.
It wasn’t an easy diagnosis, which is often the case in women, but a couple of irregularities on her EKG (electrocardiogram) was enough to alert the attention of cardiologist Dr. Bill Joswig, who ordered a stress test at Pomerado Hospital. This test confirmed there was a problem and Emily was whisked to the new Palomar Medical Center (PMC) for an angiogram in the facility’s state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization Lab.
Emily’s symptoms were the first indication a serious problem. By the time she arrived at PMC, she was a ticking time bomb. Emily’s left anterior descending artery (ADA) was 95 percent blocked. That’s the scenario that often leads to a deadly outcome known as the “widow maker.”
Because of quick action by her doctors and access to the latest technology and skilled staff in PMC’s Cath Lab, Emily not only avoided a fatal heart attack, but open-heart surgery as well. During her procedure, cardiologist Dr. Mikhail Malek re-opened Emily’s blocked artery and placed a stent. Today, she’s not only back at work, she’s symptom-free and training for a half Ironman later this year!
I love happy endings, but that’s not always how this story goes. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills an average of one woman every minute. But making the diagnosis can be a challenge, as Emily experienced, because women’s symptoms often differ from those in men.
As manager of PMC’s Cath Lab, Nancy Islas can attest to the fact that women are more likely to experience subtle and vague symptoms. “I see women with acute fatigue, weakness, indigestion, upper back pain and abdominal pain,” says Islas. “Even hot flashes can be symptomatic of heart disease.”
Emily credits her return to health to Palomar Health’s caring, competent staff and cutting edge technology. Whether it’s 3-D imaging or intravascular ultrasound, Islas explains that all of the diagnostic tools are incorporated for quick and easy access. “We have an expression,” says Islas. “Time is muscle. Our goal is to get that artery opened up. Once the heart muscle is dead, it’s too late.”
We women can all learn from Emily’s experience about the need to be vigilant when it comes to our health. As a breast cancer patient, I believe we all need to “think pink” in the fight against a disease that kills one in 31 women. But now that I know more about the disease that takes the lives of one in three women, I also plan to “Go Red” this February, heart month, in the fight against heart disease.
Ladies (and gentlemen), the take-away from Emily’s story is clear. Listen to your body. If you know something’s “not right,” don’t risk becoming a statistic. Get checked out.
Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@pph.org.