Ignoring a Backache Almost Ended Tami's Life

Updated:Oct 17,2012
Tami Meeks Family
At 49-years-old, I was feeling pretty good about my life.  I have been blessed to watch both of my kids grow into adults.  This fall I was going to become a grandmother for the first time.  And I was entering my 19th year at PHP, a company I love to work for.  As a single mom for most of my life, I was finally getting to the point where I only had to care for myself. 

In late March, I vacationed in Florida.  After a beautiful day at the beach, I went to bed and began having a lot of discomfort in my back, across my chest, and especially in my arms.  It was painful and brought me to tears, but there wasn’t any type of sharpness to it---mostly just a constant ache that would not go away.   Since most of the pain was in my back and arms, I attributed it to either the fact that I had fallen asleep on the beach with my arms stretched out over my head for a long period of time or perhaps heartburn from Thai food I had eaten earlier.  Six hours later, the pain finally stopped.

The next night it happened again, but this time lasting only a few hours. I decided it must be heartburn, especially since it only seemed to happen when I was lying down.  I flew back home a few days later, not giving it any more thought.

A week later, I was shopping with my son when I began to experience that same pain. Although it still wasn’t a sharp, shooting pain, it was very uncomfortable and wouldn’t stop.  I also started to feel light-headed, so I suggested we get lunch so I could sit down. I didn’t tell my son what was happening because I didn’t want to alarm him and spoil our time together.  The discomfort continued to get worse.  I began to shake, broke out into a sweat, and felt like I was going to pass out.  I knew something was very, very wrong.  I finally told my son that I needed to go to the hospital. 

He rushed me to the hospital.  I must have been in and out of consciousness, because I don’t remember most of the ride.  I prayed we would make it in time.

As soon as we arrived, they began working on me.  A nurse informed me that I was in the middle of a massive heart attack.  I was barely hanging on.  They rushed me off to the cath lab where they discovered that I had a 99% blockage and two blood clots.  Fortunately, they were able to remove the blockage and clots and place a stent in my artery. 

They told me later that it is a miracle that I am alive. 

They thought I experienced the first heart attack in Florida, but since the blood clots had probably not yet formed, there was just enough room for the blood to barely flow.  By April 9th, the blockage was so bad that the entire bottom and one of the sides of my heart was not getting any oxygen or blood flow.  According to my cardiologist, if I had been even a few minutes later getting to the ER I probably wouldn’t be here today to tell my story.  The artery that was blocked was the main artery and the type of blockage that is called the “widow maker”. 

Although I’m sure my son was very scared, it is because of him that I made it to the ER in time and am alive today.

I want people, especially women, to understand that a heart attack isn’t necessarily what you see on TV or in the movies.   It isn’t always the sharp, shooting pain that doubles you over and brings you to your knees.  While I was in a lot of pain, for me it was mostly discomfort and a constant ache.  It didn’t feel like it was coming from my heart – the majority of my pain was in my back, shoulders, across my breast bone, and in both of my upper arms.  It wasn’t down my left arm, which is what you often associated with a heart attack.   Each of my arms, from my elbow up to my shoulder, felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. 
It is crucial that women especially do not ignore these types of signs. 

I was an active, regular walker who took Zumba classes.  Because I was so active, I never considered that I could be experiencing a heart attack.  The signs are different for everyone. Seeking treatment when you feel this type of discomfort or pain is critical.

This has been the most terrifying, eye-opening experience of my life. As a result, I’ve now made even more life-style changes including eating healthier and trying to lower my stress level. 

Although I have worked in the health insurance industry for almost 19 years, I was always afraid to go to the doctor. I was terrified of any medical treatment that required a needle.  Perhaps if I had gone in for regular check-ups and had lab work done on a routine basis, my heart attack could have been avoided.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to get annual check-ups and to pay attention to what your body is telling you.  If my experience can cause even one person to get regular check-ups, seek treatment when they sense something isn’t right, and avoid having a heart attack, then I guess my incident was worth it.

I’ll be walking at the Northeast Indiana Heart Walk on Saturday, Sept. 15, at IPFW’s Alumni Plaza to raise awareness and money for the American Heart Association. I hope you will join me at the walk. For more information or to sign up, visit www.fortwayneheartwalk.kintera.org.

Tami Meeks