Source: CourierPost Online
Anne Bertino-Lapinsky had no idea she was in danger the day her body sent a warning.
After a string of 12-hour work days, the 57-year-old Virtua nurse felt a sharp pain in her left shoulder one night in November as she washed the dinner dishes in her Voorhees home. Then, her left arm went tingly and numb. She sat down for a minute, waiting for the sensations to go away.
They didn’t. A frightening sense of doom washed over her. Ignoring her own advice to patients about driving themselves to the hospital, Bertino-Lapinsky went to Virtua Voorhees and walked into the emergency department. No, she wasn’t coming back to work, she told staff.
“Something is wrong,” she said. Maybe it was her heart, she thought. Probably not.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, killing about one woman per minute, according to the American Heart Association. More women than men die from heart disease each year. And 90 percent of women have at least one risk factor for developing the disease.
Bertino-Lapinsky didn’t smoke. She wasn’t overweight. She maintained a healthy, active lifestyle, and didn’t have high blood pressure or diabetes, all risk factors for heart disease.
Dr. Jeffrey Leavy, a cardiologist with Virtua Physician Partners and The Heart House, ordered a stress test, but didn’t expect to see problems. Her symptoms were unusual for heart disease. The most common signs of a heart attack include pressure, pain, fullness or squeezing in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back. But women can also break into a cold sweat, or experience shortness of breath, back pain, arm pain, jaw pain, nausea, or light-headedness.
He couldn’t explain Bertino-Lapinsky’s hunch that something was wrong, though some people report feeling fatigued in the days leading up to a heart attack.
“Everyone’s story is different,” Leavy said.
“Anne knew, as a health care professional, that her symptoms weren’t typical,” he added. “They weren’t classic symptoms, yet she paid attention.”
A stress test in the emergency department revealed rhythm changes and tightness in her chest, so Leavy ordered a heart catheterization, performed within two hours at Virtua Marlton. There, he found the right artery leading to her heart was 90 percent blocked, and required two stents to open. She spent two days in the intensive care unit. The shoulder pain and numbness in her arm was gone.
“It was just such a shock and a surreal feeling,” Bertino-Lapinsky recalled, after learning her diagnosis. “I just wanted them to fix the problem.”
Because the problem was caught early, there was no damage to her heart muscle. She is now fully recovered without restrictions to her activity.
“If I hadn’t listened to my body, if I hadn’t reacted to that sense of overwhelming doom that something was truly wrong, I would have been one of those fatality cases, where a menopausal woman in her 50s or 60s just doesn’t survive because they drop dead from a blocked artery,” she said.
Mortality is high among women with heart disease, because their symptoms often go unrecognized, noted Dr. Renee Bullock-Palmer, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Center at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Pemberton Township.
“A lot of times when they seek help, it’s too late,” Bullock-Palmer said. “We tend to prioritize everything else. I always tell patients you have to think of your health first.”
Bertino-Lapinsky, who is also married and the mother of a 17-year-old daughter, wants other women to pay attention to their bodies.
“It’s so important that we listen, as women, to what our body tells us,” she said. “They saved my life, all the nurses and doctors who took care of me. I don’t know if every woman would walk in and say something is wrong, because our symptoms are so vague sometimes.”
Leavy said he would rather patients have troubling symptoms checked than go ignored.
“If you’re concerned, come get evaluated,” Leavy said. “That’s what we’re here for.”