Shortly before her 51st birthday, Ruth, a software engineer from Sunnyvale, began to notice some unusual cardiac symptoms. Ruth says she was excessively tired and felt like her heart was "working overtime" when she rode her bike or worked out at the gym.
"There was this pressure in my chest," recalls Ruth, "but I wasn't sure what was causing it." She was also confused by the symptoms because she had experienced heartburn from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in the past, which felt almost exactly the same.
Ruth has had rheumatoid arthritis for many years, so she knew she was at a greater risk for heart disease. (The American College of Rheumatology says rheumatoid arthritis almost doubles the risk of having a heart attack within the first 10 years of an RA diagnosis.) But, because the symptoms would come and go, Ruth wasn’t certain if she needed to see a cardiologist for additional testing.
That all changed on February 14, 2012 -- Valentine's Day. Ruth was brushing her teeth when she felt something in her heart that was nothing to celebrate. It was a crushing pressure in her chest that was much worse than ever before. "It was as if a hand was pushing on both sides of my chest – front and back," explains Ruth. "I also felt a burning sensation and nausea, and my heart was beating strangely."
Ruth went immediately to the El Camino Hospital emergency department, where she had a series of tests, including an angiogram, and was admitted to the hospital. Cardiologist Deepu Nair, M.D., medical director of Echocardiography at El Camino Hospital, told Ruth her left anterior descending (LAD) artery was 95% blocked, an extremely dangerous condition because the LAD provides much of the blood flow to the left ventricle of the heart. (The sudden death of former NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert was due to an occlusion of the LAD.)
Fortunately, Dr. Nair and the cardiac team at El Camino Hospital were able to quickly insert a stent to restore Ruth's blood flow. "They truly saved my life," says Ruth.
Since that fateful Valentine's Day, Ruth has had a second episode of chest pain that led to the insertion of another stent in the same location. As part of her recovery, she attends the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at El Camino Hospital’s Mountain View campus.
"The Rehab team is fantastic," says Ruth. "They taught me how to exercise safely, while continuously monitoring my heart for any problems." Ruth adds that she is now doing everything she can to improve her heart health, from diet and exercise to weight loss. "I've lost 20 pounds and have adopted a very low-fat, vegan diet. I'm at my ideal weight now and I feel great!"
Ruth hopes that, by sharing her story, others will become more aware of the symptoms of heart disease, which can be difficult to identify in women. (For a list of symptoms, go to "Think You Know What a Heart Attack Is? Think Again"). When in doubt, don’t hesitate. Call 911 and get to a hospital right away.
Thankfully, Ruth didn't wait to see if she would feel better in an hour or two. She sought emergency treatment, and now she will be around for many more Valentine's Days to come.