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Published on February 04, 2019

Jessica Armstrong

Dangerous Words for a Heart Attack: "I’m Fine."

It was a Wednesday morning, and Jessica Armstrong was bustling around her home getting ready for work.

At one point, she went back into her bedroom and saw the duvet on the bed was crooked. When she bent over to straighten the blanket, pressure filled her chest and upper back.

Armstrong mentioned her discomfort to her husband, describing the pain as an elephant sitting on her chest. He gently recommended going to the hospital. Not wanting to be a bother, she waved away his concerns with those risky words, “I’m fine.”

A half hour after he left for work, Armstrong went into the bathroom for one final look into the mirror. Her mind went to her children and grandchildren; she decided to go to the emergency room just to be safe.

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“I had a mild heart attack,” said Armstrong.

The emergency team at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center admitted her for the night. The next morning, just before she was to have a stress test, her chest pain returned so they transported her to the Avera Heart Hospital via ambulance.

It was at this time she contacted her husband to explain the day’s change of plans.

An angiogram revealed a blockage in her right coronary artery. During an angiogram, a contrast agent (iodine dye) is introduced into the patient’s system, which allows the physician to observe any abnormalities captured on the X-ray. Doctors immediately placed a stent inside the artery to relieve the blockage and promote blood flow.

“They were so fabulous and caring, the team who treated me,” said Armstrong. “Every day, they see worried people and they handle each person with grace.”

While Armstrong never showed signs of heart problems, the risk runs in her family. Her mother worked at managing high blood pressure and thyroid disease all her life. Armstrong’s mother passed away at an early age.

Today, she prioritizes her health during a busy day by eating healthier and walking her eager yellow Labradors. The thought that a health emergency could happen to even her is always in the back of her mind.

“It was a lesson to care for and listen to my body,” Armstrong said. “I have a lot of life left to live, and I’m also taking time to enjoy every moment now.”

Do You Know the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack?

You don’t have to have all the symptoms for it to be a heart attack. Armstrong only experienced pain in her chest and upper back; she thought she would have had more symptoms.

Common Symptoms

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Jaw and/or back pain
  • Arm and/or shoulder pain
  • Sweatiness
  • Nausea
  • Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • Shortness of breath

“If something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out,” said Armstrong. “God gave us these gut feelings for a reason: for your protection.”

-Photo courtesy of Kate Luecke Photography

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