Roxanne Rich knew something was wrong. She thought maybe she was just too stressed out and her body was telling her to slow down.
Little did she know, however, she had a 99 percent blockage in an artery that led to a heart attack.
“I was up six times that Wednesday night,” Rich recalled. “I felt strange but there was no pain. There was a tightness in my jaw but there wasn’t an elephant sitting on my chest.”
In observance of American Heart Month in February, Rich wanted to tell her story to encourage other women to become aware of possible heart-attack symptoms. These symptoms often vary from those men suffer.
Even though she was drenched in sweat that night last June, Rich went to work in the morning.
“I knew I was going to do what I had to do,” the 58-year-old Great Bend woman said. “Then I was leaning on a counter at work and I had heart palpitations. I knew I couldn’t drive and called a friend.”
Rich didn’t realize the severity of her condition and had been pleased with the care provided at St. Rose Health Center in the past. Therefore, she sought treatment at St. Rose’s Convenient Care Walk-in Clinic.
“By that time, I had a weird vision thing going on too,” Rich noted. “It was not quite tunnel vision. I thought I was having a panic attack.”
Ed Habash, St. Rose physician assistant, ordered an EKG and blood work. And nothing was showing up.
“An EKG doesn’t always indicate everything we need to know,” Habash said. “But Roxanne’s symptoms had to be a sign of something. Vague symptoms grab my attention. And if a patient mentions stress, I want to check into heart issues. Stress is a red flag.”
A troponin test was ordered; it indicated this enzyme was elevated. The next step was an ambulance ride to Hays Medical Center on June 26 - 10 days after the initial symptoms arose.
“Ed wouldn’t even let me go home and gather up a few things and make arrangements for my dog,” Rich recalled, laughing. “I am glad he didn’t. He saved my life.”
Habash noted that Rich tended to discount her symptoms, which is not uncommon.
“But I don’t want to discount them too,” he said, noting that anyone with chest pains should report to the nearest emergency room. “People say X Y and Z are the reasons for something. Roxanne had several symptoms that were running through my head. I couldn’t discount those.”
Classic heart-attack signs are shortness of breath, pain radiating down the left arm and/or chest pain. Women don’t always have these symptoms.
Instead, Habash said, women often have upper-back pain and a jaw ache. Profuse sweating is fairly common too.
“Women and diabetics are more difficult to diagnose sometimes,” the physician assistant said. “Since they usually don’t have the classic symptoms, we tell ourselves to be vigilant every day.”
Habash also noted that St. Rose’s immediate access to HaysMed cardiologists is invaluable. “We talk to them and send test results electronically,” he explained. “We have a great team here at St. Rose that collaborates with the Hays cardiologists, who are always available. This collaboration is awesome.
“Dr. Rashmi Thapa, who consulted with me about Roxanne, is always great to work with,” he added.
Dr. Mohammed Janif implanted a stent in Rich’s blocked artery at HaysMed where she was a patient for five days. She sees Dr. Janif at his Great Bend clinic for follow-up visits.
Rich echoed Habash’s comments about the St. Rose and HaysMed teamwork.
“When I look back,” she said, “everything was really wrong. A heart attack never entered my mind. The people who helped me are extraordinary. They saved my life.”
St. Rose specializes in primary care, prevention and wellness. Services include St. Rose Family Medicine, Convenient Care Walk-in Clinic, Great Bend Internists, imaging, Cardiac Rehab, Special Nursing Services, one-day surgical procedures, Golden Belt Home Health & Hospice and a comprehensive Specialty Clinic. St. Rose is co-owned by Hays Medical Center and Centura Health.