Local Heart Disease Survivor, Mary Hunt, Shares Her Diagnosis and Treatment Story
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Do you know what the number one killer of women is, causing one in three deaths each year? You might be surprised to learn the culprit is heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, approximately one woman dies every minute from heart disease. The Go Red for Women campaign aims to raise awareness of the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease, arming women with the tools they need to improve their heart health.
The symptoms of heart disease present differently in women than in men. This can lead to delayed treatment if the patient is not aware of the warning signs. Recognizing the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease is imperative to improving outcomes. Mary Hunt, a local survivor whose heart attack was prevented, can attest to that. Along with her physician, Dr. Rakesh Choubey of Gessler Clinic, she shares her experience of being diagnosed with— and treated for— heart disease.
It all started as a real pain in the neck for Hunt. She had been experiencing pain in her neck for a few months, and at first simply coped with the discomfort, dismissing it as just a “crick” in the neck. When the aching refused to subside, she visited her primary care physician. Fortunately, her doctor recognized the subtle pain as a possible symptom of heart disease and referred her to the specialist who is now her current cardiologist, Dr. Choubey. Upon being sent for an EKG and a stress test, it was clear that her neck pain was an indicator of something far more sinister. Ultimately, she needed medical intervention, and in January 2016, a long stent was placed on the right side of her heart.
For many people, this kind of event acts as a wake-up call of sorts, inspiring them to make the lifestyle changes necessary to preserve good health. Hunt was no exception. She quickly recommitted herself to a healthy diet and getting more exercise. In her case, walking was a part of that solution. Hunt is a motivated 58-year-old woman, who works full time while attending college to obtain her bachelor’s degree. She plans on retiring soon and doesn’t want to be hampered by preventable health conditions. Some of her risk factors were diabetes and hypertension, so she already knows the importance of healthy habits, but her life-altering diagnosis set off a chain of events that ultimately improved her quality of life.
It can be difficult for many women to take time from their busy lives for self-care, but it is important to do so. “The hardest part for me,” she says, “was slowing down. But it makes you slow down.”
Dr. Choubey tells us that neck pain is a classic sign of angina, especially in women. Mary was unique in that her pain was in the back of her neck, rather than in the front and jaw area as is more prevalent. Dr. Choubey cautions that the onset of pain due to exertion is typically a sign of angina. Treatment is generally undertaken fairly quickly, depending on the severity of the blockage. In Hunt’s case, about a week passed between her diagnosis and the implantation of the stent. Dr. Choubey currently sees Mary on a yearly basis for checkups.
Other symptoms to watch for, according to Dr. Choubey, include shortness of breath upon exertion, pain in the chest (especially on the left side), and a sudden decrease in physical stamina or abilities. Of course, illness or fatigue can cause these symptoms, but Dr. Choubey tells us, “If those symptoms happen for no reason, it’s time to consult your doctor.” Left untreated, heart disease can lead to heart attacks and further health problems, even death.
The two greatest risk factors for heart disease are family history and smoking. This is why it’s important to know your family history and to quit smoking. Other risk factors include having high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, and being overweight. The best preventive care, Dr. Choubey observes, is to eat a vegetarian diet (or at least more veggies and lean meat), get enough exercise, and curb one’s smoking and drinking habits. He also maintains that once a stent is required, you can expect to be on several daily medications for the rest of your life.
Hunt offers some advice to those who may be at risk for heart disease: “Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wait to go and see your doctor. Be upfront and tell them what’s going on. Don’t procrastinate. Life is too short and we have good, knowledgeable doctors who know what to look for.”