Our 2020 Survivor

Judi King

2020 Survivor

One night, mid-October, 2019, as my husband, Ralph, and I were lying in bed reading, I felt a burning in the middle and towards the right side of my chest that I assumed was heartburn. I was going to ask my husband to hand me a couple Tums, but fell asleep instead.


The next morning I got up at 5 a.m. and turned on the coffeepot. As I stood there, waiting for it to brew I realized I still had the heartburn feeling in the mid to right side of my chest. I decided to take my morning pills which included a Prilosec type drug for reflux. I poured myself a cup of coffee and ate a bite of a brownie. The burning sensation didn't get better and started to radiate down into my right arm to my elbow. My husband got up at 5:30 and I told him the pain was still there and wondered whether we should go into the ER. Within 10 minutes we were on our way.


My husband got us to the hospital in record time thanks to the lack of traffic at 6 a.m. on Saturday. He wanted me to take one of his nitroglycerin pills on our way over but I didn't want to take anything without knowing what was happening. All the way over I kept thinking how embarrassing it was going to be if I got there and they told me it was indigestion.


By the time we arrived at the ER the burning had gotten much worse. It took a couple hours to be definite but various tests including blood tests and and EKG (ECG) showed that I had had a minor heart attack. The pain was fairly quickly controlled with a pain med and a nitroglycerin patch.


I was hospitalized and since it was a weekend and not an emergency I was scheduled for a heart catheterization on Monday morning. Dr. Cagin did that procedure through my right wrist and ended up doing angioplasty and placing a stent in a blocked artery.


Before I left the hospital I was offered cardiac rehabilitation at the cardiac center located at Mayo Hospital, La Crosse. I gladly accepted and called to set up my 3X weekly sessions as soon as I got home. The education and understanding I've gotten about my health, diet and exercise and how they relate to my heart has been invaluable. Also, there is a certain amount of fear involved with exercising after an event like a heart attack and it is so comforting to know I am being monitored and in the good hands of Heidi, Paige, Doug, Rachel and others.


It is important to mention I was concerned that my unusual chest and arm burning feeling might be a potential heart issue because around 15 years ago there was a large, national campaign in public service announcements and news stories alerting women to the fact that our symptoms might not be the same as those heart attic symptoms typically seen in men. Until I got to the hospital I probably wouldn't have describe my discomfort as chest pain and I still thought that feeling and even the pain in the inside of my right arm seemed more related to some kind of indigestion.

Past Survivors

Sara Lieurance

2019 Survivor Story

I had a heart attack on Jan 7, 2018. I have NO risk factors: no family history, no clogged arteries, I am active and generally eat healthy (there is always room for improvement). All of my lab work is normal. I’m 38...not your typical age to have a heart attack. My diagnosis is SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Arterial Dissection) which is a tear in the inside lining of my LAD (left atrial descending artery). No known cause. My symptoms began with a fatigued/achy feeling underneath both of my arms from the elbows to the armpit area. There was some slight tightness in my chest. These symptoms became stronger as time progressed and I developed some nausea, slight sweating, and the achy feeling radiated to my jaw and down the bottom of my forearms to my pinky fingers. From onset of symptoms to the 911 call was 5-8 min. Eventually the fatigue became stronger, my chest tighter, and when EMS arrived, my BP and heart rate were NORMAL. My EKG said otherwise and my jaw had gone completely numb...they gave me aspirin, put me in the ambulance, then Nitroglycerin during transport to Gundersen. From the ER, I went to the cath lab where they verified it was a heart attack and placed 2 stents. I was in my room in CCU less than 2 hours after my 911 call...actually about 2 hours from the onset of symptoms. 


Be educated on the symptoms...it may not be crushing chest pain, especially in women. Learn from my story...it can happen to you at ANY age, with NO RISK FACTORS. I ran a 5K the day prior, and this occurred after finishing a yoga class. I had no symptoms leading up to this.

Donna Brown

2018 Survivor Story

Donna Bryan was age 74 when she experienced her heart event. It was July 1, 2017. She was taking out the trash when she suddenly had chest pain. She went to the ER at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, and was diagnosed immediately

with a heart attack. She was brought to the cardiac cath lab where she was found to have multiple blockages in her coronary arteries. She had 3 stents placed in 2 different arteries. She also found out that her heart was weak, and diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.


During her hospitalization, she went back to the cath lab 3 days later with concern for other blockages, but there was no change. A few weeks later, Donna came to her first cardiac rehab session. As soon as she arrived, Donna had difficulty breathing and the staff knew something was wrong. Donna had a buildup of fluid in her lung (pleural effusion) and around her heart (pericardial effusion). She had to have the fluid in her lung drawn out with a needle (thoracentesis) and was also treated with medication. She was in the hospital for 2 days. Just 3 days after returning home, she had a recurrence of symptoms that brought her back to the ER. The fluid in her lung had returned. She had to have another procedure to remove it (thoracentesis), and stayed at the hospital for a few more days.

After all of this, Donna came to cardiac rehab about 1 week after her last hospitalization. Given everything she had been through, she was very fearful of doing anything. Slowly but surely, Donna used monitored exercise therapy to regain her strength and stamina. She was thankful for the education and care she received, and began to feel more comfortable to work a little more each week that she came. She continued to give great effort and gain confidence as she continued her cardiac rehab therapy. Three months later, Donna had made huge improvements in her ability and confidence with her activity. On her first day, Donna was able to exercise at low workloads for 10 minutes, and rated it as somewhat hard to hard.

A few months later, Donna was doing up to an hour of exercise at higher workloads, and was rating it easier than before. She completed her monitored cardiac rehab therapy, and continues to exercise 3x/week in the outpatient exercise program, and walk with a friend at home. Donna will also tell you that she made some good friends in cardiac rehab along the way.

On January 13, 2018, Donna had another scary medical event. She was driving home with her granddaughter when she was having trouble breathing and felt like she was going to pass out. She pulled over and gave her granddaughter her phone and told her to call her mother. That was the last thing she remembers until she woke up with a breathing tube in the hospital. Her lungs had suddenly filled up with fluid. Her granddaughter ended up calling 911 and Donna received lifesaving emergency care. Her family was called and notified she was in critical condition and her recovery was uncertain. Amazingly, Donna made a remarkable and swift recovery from this event. Her doctors told her that the exercise she did following her heart attack had strengthened her heart, and that if she hadn’t done it, she wouldn’t be alive. Throughout all of this, Donna has maintained a positive attitude, and is grateful and appreciative of all of the care and support she has received.