Read this article as it originally appeared on Nov. 2, 2021 on northjesey.com.
Megan Bizzaro as an Emergency Medical Services Supervisor for Saint Clare’s Health, New Jersey, spent her career taking care of emergencies for many patients, working from ambulances. She recently, unexpectedly, found herself as a patient of Saint Clare’s Health, too. Megan had a heart attack, but she had no idea it was happening or the critical condition of her heart.
Fortunately, for Megan, she was able to access exceptional care at Saint Clare’s Health, a member of Prime Healthcare New Jersey. The Prime Healthcare regional network of hospitals — Saint Clare’s Health in Denville and Dover, St. Mary’s General Hospital in Passaic, and Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark — offers a team of exceptional cardiac experts, close to home.
Megan’s story is rare, but not completely uncommon. Although heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S., women often chalk up symptoms of a heart attack to less life-threatening conditions, such as acid reflux, the flu, or normal aging, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). AHA research also indicates that heart attack symptoms vary between men and women; for example, women can experience a heart attack without chest pressure, which is the most recognizable symptom of a heart attack.
Heart attack symptoms and warning signs in women
AHA data suggests that chest pain is the most common heart attack symptom for men and women, yet women often experience more subtle symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain. Women also experience symptoms that can often benign, so they do not believe there is a cause for concern, although these symptoms can be. These include unusual fatigue, sweating, and neck pain. Since many of the warning signs are often a product of a busy schedule or other normal events for women, such as menopause, they are often ignored.
Megan’s story is a lesson for all women
Bizzaro says the above rang true for her, and though a medical professional herself, she is surprised at how her own symptoms were so subtle and easily ignored.
While at work one evening, Bizzaro was feeling an uneasiness in her chest.
“It was a feeling that I had not experienced before, and it was difficult to describe,” she said. “I brushed it off, attributing the symptoms to acid reflux or muscular pain — my husband and I had done some recent construction in our home. I had this same feeling for an hour or so the night before while at the movies with my family.”
Something did not feel right, so later that night Bizzaro returned to Saint Clare’s Health and checked into the emergency department.
“When my ECG and blood tests came back normal, I felt embarrassed. I thought perhaps I rushed off to the ER too soon,” she said. “As a paramedic, I am trained to recognize and treat the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. As a patient, I was uncertain. I did not experience typical cardiac symptoms. At this point, I wanted to go home. As I was gathering my belongings and planning to leave, the physician convinced me to stay overnight for additional observation.”
The next day, the cardiologist at Saint Clare’s Health ordered an additional test, the nuclear stress test. To Bizzaro’s shock, the stress test indicated that she indeed was experiencing a cardiac event.
Then Bizzaro, under the expert care of Dr. Rhuna Shen, a cardiac interventionalist, was advised in the cardiac cauterization laboratory, she had a 100% occlusion of the LAD (Left Anterior Descending) and 80% occlusion of the RCA (Right Coronary Artery). Dr. Shen subsequently placed three life-saving stents in her heart. “Without question, Saint Clare’s Health took the necessary steps to save my life!” exclaims Bizzaro.
“The terrifying part is, I had absolutely no idea that I was sick,” Bizzaro said. “They call this blockage the widow-maker, and yet I survived. My Prime Healthcare family saved my life.”
Get the patient experience you deserve
Although a terrifying experience, Bizzaro said knowing she was in the care of exceptional physicians made her feel much more confident. “The medical staff at Saint Clare’s Health and Saint Mary’s General took the time to explain everything to me,” she said. “Prime Healthcare New Jersey hospitals provided the exceptional cardiac services that saved my life. It is very apparent that they are dedicated to providing the very best care. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”
Bizzaro encourages everyone to remember that heart disease is preventable and to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider today to gain a personal assessment of their own heart.
Click here to schedule an appointment at Prime Healthcare NJ to talk to a doctor about preventative heart care.
Prime Healthcare is an award-winning health system operating 45 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient locations in 14 states. Fourteen of the Prime Healthcare hospitals are members of the Prime Healthcare Foundation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charity. Prime Healthcare has received “15 Top Health Systems” recognition from Fortune/IBM Watson Health three times and its hospitals have been recognized among the “100 Top Hospitals” in the nation 58 times.