Eileen Murray of Bennington never would have guessed that she was having a heart attack. She was just 33. She awoke in the middle of the night to the cry of her daughter Brianna, who was just 5 days old. Eileen went to the bassinet and picked Brianna up. It was about time for her 1 a.m. feeding. It was just then, she felt a stabbing pain in her back.
“It was so intense, I worried that I was going to drop her,” Eileen says, now 14 years later.
She set Brianna down on the bed as the pain moved around her shoulder to her chest. She felt cold and clammy, then dizzy and nauseated, then hot and short of breath.
“I laid on the bathroom floor, because the coolness of it felt good,” Eileen says.
Eileen’s husband Larry called her OB/Gyn, who directed Eileen straight to the Emergency Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Eileen’s mother Anna was called in to watch Brianna while Larry drove Eileen to the hospital for the second time that week. The Emergency Department was ready when she arrived.
“The symptoms had started to subside, and I felt a little silly as they hooked me up to all the machines,” Eileen says. “My husband was shocked when they told him they thought I was having a heart attack. That was the last thing on our minds.”
Eileen was being monitored when the second wave of heart attack symptoms took hold. She stopped breathing and lost consciousness.
Cardiologist Dr. Scott Rogge was there, too. He could see from the EKG and the Echocardiogram, an ultrasound that shows the heart beating, that Eileen’s heart had developed a fast and in a chaotic pattern called ventricular tachycardia. It occasionally occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough blood. Dr. Rogge knew that she would die without a shock to reset the heart rhythm.
“Eileen’s daughter is the same age as my kids. In that moment, I was thinking of how terrible it would be to lose this young mother,” Dr. Rogge says.
Thirty seconds passed as the team shocked Eileen’s heart and tried to revive her. Eileen remembers waking to a nurse yelling, “Eileen, can you hear me?”
“The nurse was so relieved when I answered; I thought she was going to cry,” Eileen says.
Eileen went on to Albany Medical Center for three days of tests and monitoring, then back to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center for three more days. The clot that had barreled through Eileen’s heart had broken up without any need for surgery, but it caused a lot of damage.
Eileen attended the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at SVMC and still takes cardiac medication. She has blood tests once a month and visits Dr. Rogge once a year for an echocardiogram.
“Over the years, Eileen has brought Brianna with her to her appointments at the office. We’ve watched her grow up,” Dr. Rogge says. “It’s a happy occasion to see that they are both doing so well.”
Eileen tells her story often with the goal of educating the people she knows.
“If you feel pain in your chest, don’t mess around. Go to the Emergency Room. Even if it turns out to be indigestion, it is better to have gone for nothing than to have a heart attack that can’t be treated in time.”
Dr. Rogge echoes those thoughts.
“The public has been well educated to recognize the pressure in the chest and pain in the left arm that are associated with heart attacks in men. Often, women don’t get those symptoms,” Rogge said. “Don’t ignore jaw pain, nausea, sweating, and symptoms like those Eileen experienced. They can be heart attack symptoms too, and getting help in time can be lifesaving.”
Eileen thanks her daughter who woke her up that night, the nurses in the Emergency Department, and Dr. Rogge.
“Those nurses and Dr. Rogge are my angels,” Eileen says. “And I tell my daughter all the time that she saved my life. If she hadn’t woke me up, I could have died.”
For more information, visit SVMC Cardiology and our page of American Heart Association resources.