Julie Pyke thought she might be having a heart attack when she awoke suddenly at 4 a.m. with searing chest pain.
When she shook her husband awake to tell him, he thought she was being silly and having a panic attack instead. She was 46 and didn’t have any risk factors or family history. Who has a heart attack at 46 under such circumstances?
It turns out, Julie did.
As her arms turned numb and she began to feel nauseous, Julie went to the bathroom to throw up. She was sweaty, cold and clammy all at once. Her arm was so numb she couldn’t move it.
“The pain was excruciating,” she says.
She called out to her husband and when he saw her pale skin and blue lips, he knew something was wrong.
Julie lives in Wroxeter, a rural area north of Listowel. Fearful for his wife, Julie’s husband called the Listowel hospital and told them Julie was having chest pain and they were driving in for help. It was January 2016 and the snow was blowing hard as the couple slowly made their way to the Listowel hospital.
When they arrived, Julie says the doctors and nurses jumped into action.
“Even though I was young when I walked in I didn’t get, ‘You’re too young to have a heart attack.’ They were very good. They hooked me right up to the machines and checked my heart,” she says.
When doctors realized Julie was, in fact, having a heart attack, they called St. Mary’s Hospital, spoke to a cardiologist and quickly placed Julie in an ambulance and sent her to the Kitchener hospital with a doctor and nurse by her side.
“I was lying there and at first I thought it was weird. I thought I can’t be having a heart attack because I’m too young for a heart attack,” says Julie, who is currently working as an Educational Assistant with ESL students in Goderich.
Then, she started to panic as she realized what was happening to her was real.
“You’re in shock. I don’t think it really hit me for a few days after it happened.”
When she arrived at St. Mary’s, doctors ran more tests and discovered that a spontaneous tear in a blood vessel in her heart had caused her heart attack.
Julie says her grandparents had heart disease, but no one in her family ever had a heart attack so young.
“I had no risk factors. My cholesterol was fine . . . everything else was fine,” she says.
A few months before her heart attack, Julie says she noticed she was out of breath a lot, even just walking up a flight of stairs. She also experienced pain across her shoulders for a couple of months that wouldn’t go away. She was also extremely tired all the time.
She was thinking about getting it checked out when she had her cardiac emergency.
Now, she’s warning women to pay attention to symptoms, even if they think they’re not at risk.
“I would never have thought I was at risk,” says Julie, adding perhaps she could have avoided having a heart attack if she had paid attention closer attention to her symptoms.
Two years after her heart attack, Julie is still adjusting to her new reality. She takes three medications a day and doesn’t have the energy she once had. She also taught her teenage son to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack so that if Julie has another one, he can call 911 right away.
Now, she doesn’t take anything for granted.
There are family camping trips with their grown children and last year, she and her husband went to New York City to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.
“Prior to my heart attack we probably wouldn’t have done that. We would’ve said, ‘Oh, we better not, that’s too much money,’ ” she says. “You’re here today but maybe not tomorrow. Even though I’m still relatively young things can happen.”