How Rosie O’Donnell Saved my Mom’s Life

My mom recently called with the news that she had gone to the hospital in the middle of the night. She had had chest pain and thought she was having a heart attack. By the next morning, she felt better and anticipated going home. At the end of my work day, she called and said they still hadn’t let her leave. It turns out they decided they should do an angiogram (cardiac catheterization) because my mom does have several risk factors for a heart problem, including age over 55yo, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Healthy heart and good healthMy mom lives several hours away, so I jumped in the car to be there for the procedure that was scheduled for the next day. It was a long day of waiting as the doctor was delayed several hours, but instead of being annoyed, I decided to enjoy the extra bonus time with my mom on a Friday. We actually had some fun passing the time and finally she had her procedure. Her cardiologist wanted to bring me in the cath room since I’m a doctor, but the hospital policy didn’t allow it. He promised he would show me all the footage – a highlights reel, so to speak – when he was done.

She was finished rather quickly, so I assumed all went well. I saw one of the doctor’s assistants first, and he was the one to give me the news that my mom did get stents, but he wouldn’t say more until I saw the cardiologist. The doctor shared with me that my mom’s right coronary artery was 100% blocked and her left anterior descending (knows as the widowmaker) was 50% blocked. The doctor was very proud of his handiwork. He had done an excellent job of placing three stents in the 100% blocked artery and was able to open it up beautifully.

Unfortunately, my mom had had too much dye in her system to address the other partially blocked artery and she will need more testing to decide the next course of action.

Wow, my mom had heart disease and had actually suffered a minor heart attack. What a staggering thought.

She had some ups and downs over the next 24 hrs after the procedure, but thankfully has recovered completely.

A few very important lessons here for any woman or anyone who loves a woman:

Women’s heart attacks are different! Rosie O’Donnell saved my mom with HEPPP, which is the acronym she made up to help women remember the signs of women’s heart attacks, which are different than the classic signs in men. Rosie suffered a major heart attack at 50 years old, which many people would not have survived. She was lucky and has been spreading the news to women of what to watch out for.

HEPPP stands for:

  • Heat
  • Exhaustion
  • Pain
  • Pale
  • Puke

Am I saying you have to run to the hospital for every little pain? No, but there are a few things to keep in mind…

If you’re a diabetic like my mom, you are at increased risk for silent heart attacks. And in addition to Rosie’s acronym, remember that cardiac chest pain is usually a dull, deep, squeezing chest pain – the so-called “elephant on the chest” rather than sharp, stabbing pains. Sharp pains are usually called atypical chest pain.

Other signs can include jaw pain, toothache, headache, nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain or discomfort, heartburn or indigestion, sweating, arm pain, and a vague feeling of illness.

My mom had been having some pain, even the day before she went to the hospital, but it wasn’t until she had the pain and she got super hot and couldn’t cool down that she remembered Rosie’s acronym and decided to go to the hospital. If she hadn’t remembered it, she might have blown off her symptoms and waited until it was too late. By going to the hospital early, she prevented a more major and more disastrous heart attack.

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