The morning of Jan. 18, 2006, figured to be just like any other for Lynne Powell. She saw her two daughters off to school, then it was time to exercise — which is only fitting of someone who had been a fitness instructor for 15 years.
However, that morning she awoke with a sharp pain in her jaw and tightness in her chest. It alarmed her enough to go online to search for information about her symptoms, then call a friend who had dealt with a heart tumor.
It’s a good thing Powell did. Her friend told her she was having a heart attack.
Even worse, she was having a heart attack for no apparent reason. Her cholesterol levels and blood pressure were normal, and it took doctors some time to discern that Powell was suffering from narrowing arteries, a rare condition.
Though it’s been several years since the incident, Powell eagerly signed on with the local chapter of the American Heart Association to bring more attention to, and raise money for, heart disease via its Go Red For Women (GRFW) campaign.
The event will feature a series of educational seminars and guest speakers on Thursday, April 19, at the The N* Room of the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Powell, who will chair the event, was 44 at the time of her heart attack and taught various types of group exercise classes. She quickly noted that heart disease didn’t run in her family.
Interestingly, she thought twice about calling her friend about her sudden health problem. “I felt really silly,” she said. But the then-undiagnosed issue “was so baffling that a few days later I was flown from Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC) to [The Johns] Hopkins [Hospital in Baltimore] for further testing. They tested our girls, too,” said Powell, the wife of Argo Systems CEO Mark Powell.
Powell was taken by ambulance to AAMC, getting an electrocardiogram en route; upon arrival, she received a coronary angiogram, the imaging of which allowed Dr. Marco Mejia, an interventional cardiologist, to diagnose the widespread narrowing of the arteries. Thus, medication was determined to be the best treatment.
The response and diagnosis resulted from the use of C-PORT, an AAMC program the medical center designed to expediently diagnose and treat cardiac patients.
What caused Powell’s heart attack was “two-fold,” said Dr. Barbara Hutchinson, managing partner of Chesapeake Cardiac Care in Annapolis and medical director of the Heart & Vascular Unit at AAMC.
“The symptoms in women tend to be different. We’re not sure why,” Hutchinson said. “What you read about in books often concerns chest pain, but women can have many other symptoms, including jaw pain, as well as shortness of breath, nausea and abdominal pain, upper body pain and extreme fatigue — many more than men usually do.”
Since those symptoms are so different, they are often misdiagnosed or attributed to other problems, she said. “By the time the problem is diagnosed, too much time can pass. It can be weeks, and it’s important to realize that 20 minutes in a case like Lynne’s is a long time.”
In addition, women can have what is known as diffuse cardiovascular disease. “In other words, there’s no focal area where a doctor can place a balloon or a stent,” Hutchinson said. “The disease exists throughout the vessel, hence the name. And that’s what happened with her.”
One in Three
To further complicate matters, maternal instincts can lead to more complications.
“Women are often concerned about taking care of everyone else before themselves,” Hutchinson said “The pets, the kids, the husband and the elders, before they go to the hospital. What I like to say to everyone, especially women, is if you have a symptom that is worse with exertion and gets better when you rest, then you need to see someone right away.”
Enlightening the public to this health issue “is what GRFW is about,” said Lindsay Butler, director of development for the American Heart Association’s (AHA) local campaign. The nonprofit decided to refocus its awareness efforts eight years ago on women’s health and wellness when it was discovered that heart disease was the most prevalent killer of women.
“Our figures indicate that one in three women have some form of heart disease, and that one woman per minute dies from it in the U.S.,” Butler said. “We introduced the program because most women didn’t realize that it’s such a huge issue. They thought it was a man thing. But not only does it affect women, it sometimes affects children, too.
“So when they find out that one in three women develop some form of heart disease, and that only about .03% of all Americans are in what the association and the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey consider ideal cardiovascular health,” she said, “it’s frightening.”
It turns out that the stat is even worse for children, “at less than .01%. In fact, we had a young lady in our Baltimore City Heart Walk in 2011 who had a 2-year-old who suddenly needed heart surgery. The child didn’t necessarily have factors that pointed to heart disease,” Butler said, “but the doctor found it.”
Get the Message
Butler knows that children’s figure “sounds crazy, but it’s really because of what children are eating in schools. And kids don’t go outside and play anymore. They’re in front of the TV or a computer and lead more sedentary lives.”
This year’s effort is the first by GRFW in the area, with one event in Annapolis and another scheduled in Baltimore on the same day. The organizers hope it will raise $80,000 in Anne Arundel County and $180,000 in the city.
It’s been some time since Powell’s health scare, but she eagerly signed on to get involved because, to her, it may as well have happened yesterday.
It took her eight weeks to return to her workout routine, teaching and working toward getting her groove back. She’s been doing well since (and recently added Zumba to her preferred list of exercises), though she takes Lipitor for cholesterol, and Toprol, a beta blocker that slows
her system down (which can be a bit tiring) so her heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
Now, the big deal is helping to get the message across to everyone on her radar screen.
“It’s so important to understand your personal risk factors and those often-overlooked common symptoms,” she said, “and to share that information with the women you love.”
For more information about Go Red For Women, call the American Heart Association at 410-637-4527 or visit www.goredforwomen.org.