A tingling in arm, a medical shock

First Person

October 07, 2007|By Marlene King | Marlene King,Special to The Sun

When I tell people I had a heart attack, they are shocked. And to this day, I'm still amazed myself.

But at age 39, I had a heart attack.

I remember it as if it was yesterday.

On Friday, April 23, 1999, at about 5 p.m., after leaving work, I felt a tingling or numbness in my right arm.

Thinking I must have held my arm in an unusual way, I kept opening and closing my hand and moving my fingers. However, the sensation continued.

I also continued on with my activities, thinking this feeling would go away. Before getting home, I picked up pizza and a video for my family, as well as my sister and her daughter, who were joining us for our weekly Friday-night tradition.

I complained to my sister about the persistent numbness.

So she tried massaging my arm. She thought what I was feeling might be gas. But the feeling persisted.

Later that evening, I made a call to my doctor's office, where the physician on call, thinking the problem was stress-related, instructed me to take a warm shower and stand under the spray of water for about five to seven minutes.

She said to call back if the tingling or numbness continued.

An hour later, after taking that advice, I called the doctor's office back, and the doctor instructed me to head to the closest emergency room.

I drove myself to what was then Fallston General Hospital in Harford County, where I was immediately taken to a room and put on an EKG monitor. Doctors then told me that I was having a heart attack.

I was in shock and started to shake as if I was suddenly very cold. I couldn't believe this. After all, I was 105 pounds and was in good health, so I thought.

Days after learning this news, I was given a cardiac cauterization, and was told by my heart specialist at Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore that "it looked as if my artery had been thrown on a hot griddle."

Because of a blockage in the artery, it was decided that it would be best not to operate, but instead to use the aggressive treatment of various medicines, including Lipitor, Toprol and aspirin.

The doctors initially couldn't determine the cause of my heart attack. My doctor told me I was an unusual case because doctors don't see many 39-year-old women in good physical condition with heart disease.

What puzzled them more was that I didn't (and still don't) fit the profile. I was not overweight, my blood pressure and cholesterol were normal, I was not a smoker or drinker, and I was never a person to eat lots of junk food.

Grilled or baked chicken or fish (salmon) along with some kind of salad or fresh green vegetables are a regular staple at my family dinner table. We do have pizza and salad on Friday nights, which is part of our family time.

I later learned that there are so many variables that come into play with heart disease. A person does not have to have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. It can simply be from a trauma to the chest or other factors.

My attack was later attributed to trauma to my chest that I suffered during a car accident 19 years earlier.

It seems that during the accident, my chest hit the steering wheel, and at that point my artery started to accumulate plaque (which causes cholesterol to stick to arteries). Because I was still young, the accumulated plaque had not become calcified, which can cause permanent damage.

Five years after the heart attack, my cardiologist gave me an excellent prognosis and a clean bill of health, and said the blockage had dissolved.

Today, I take an aspirin a day. I still eat as I did before. However, I now walk with my husband two to three times per week. And I also joined a gym.

Marlene King, who turned 48 last month, has been a volunteer for the American Heart Association for three years. She is an administrative coordinator for the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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