Lynnette’s Story: Surviving a Heart Attack She Didn’t Know She Was Having

Lynnette went through the whole weekend without realizing she was having a heart attack.

The Go Red for Women luncheon in Fargo highlights a local heart attack survivor.

We heard from someone who didn’t even realize she was at risk.

“I loved taking care of the patients, I loved the families, I loved the adrenaline rush that you’d get working in the critical care,” said Lynnette Anderson, who lives in Page. “I took care of many heart attack patients.”

Lynnette considers being a caregiver her calling.

She was a nurse in critical care for 20 years, as well as an EMT for 15 years.

Back in September 2013, her life was moving at a rapid pace.

Her youngest daughter had just started college and her oldest daughter was preparing to be married.

“You’re busy,” admitted Lynnette.

Like many North Dakota farm families, they were getting ready for the bean harvest.

“It was a weekend,” remembered Lynnette. “I was cleaning windows…washing windows, doing some gardening. Doing some yard work…and my left arm was aching. I would have rated it a four out of a zero to 10 scale.”

She said she didn’t think twice about the pain.

“It was more of an annoyance than an actual pain,” she added. “On and off all weekend. All Saturday and all Sunday. I would stop what I was doing, try to rest, take some Advil take some Tylenol. Nothing really seemed to help but it didn’t really interfere with me continuing to work.”

Then her husband Rick started to get worried.

“More than once over the course of the weekend, my husband was like ‘you know, do you think you could be having a heart attack?’ And I said,’no, there is no way this is a heart attack’,” she said.

She was 47 at the time.

No family history of heart disease.

No overt symptoms.

“As a nurse, I went through the list of every book-type heart attack of what your symptoms would be,” Lynnette said. “I was not short of breath. I was not sweaty…”

The pain continued to come and go.

At one point, they almost made the trip to the hospital, but decided not to.

“My husband commented, he said, ‘I just heard a commercial on the radio this week how women your age have atypical symptoms and they have vague symptoms’. So he said ‘are you sure?’ I said, ‘no it’s fine’.”

Monday morning, Lynnette made the 50 mile commute from Page, North Dakota to her office in Fargo.

In the door by 8 a.m., she made a doctor’s appointment two hours later.

“I was able to get in at ten o’clock,” Lynnette recalled.

A surprise to her, because her doctor usually has a long waiting list.

“I got to the clinic for my appointment,” she said. “He, of course, checked me over and he did an EKG. At that time, it was showing that I was having an heart attack. He came in and he showed me what it looked like and he contacted the cardiology crew and he said ‘we’re going to need to put you in the ambulance and we’re going to take you directly to the cath lab’.”

She still wasn’t convinced.

“This really can’t be happening,” Lynnette said. “I get that they are going to do that but this can’t be happening to me.”

It wasn’t until the doctor gave her Nitro, a medicine to increase blood flow to the heart, that her life came to a complete stop.

As a nurse, she knew that was the preferred treatment for a heart attack.

“That was like the first ‘aha’ moment for me,” admitted Lynnette. “I was pretty much in denial all weekend that anything was happening. And I truly didn’t believe that’s what was going on. I had been having the heart attack all weekend and was just very fortunate that I had made it until Monday.”

One of the toughest moments for Lynnette had nothing to do with procedures or doctors.

It was breaking the news to her family.

“I was composed and I was doing fine, until I called…him (her husband). I was very vulnerable. We didn’t know what was going to happen. But I think I was just plain scared,” Lynette said.

And she had reason to be.

“Cardiovascular disease kills more men and more women, than anything else,” said Dr. Sam Kappahan, who is an Interventional Cardiologist at Essentia Health. “You can be developing artery disease and not really have any signs or symptoms that it is happening.”

It can be a silent disease.

“This can happen to anyone,” Dr. Kappahan said. “The biggest problem, I think, comes with cardiovascular disease is that many people labor under the idea that it’s something that happens to someone else.”

Lynnette spent 20 years as a medical professional.

She never thought she would be the patient.

“When you think someone is having a heart attack, you think they would be clutching their chest and having a hard time breathing and that just was not the case,” explained Lynnette.

“I had to repeat myself at least two or three times with everyone I talked to,” said Stephanie Severson, Lynnett’s oldest daughter. “They are like, ‘Who? Your mom? Lynnette? What did you say’?”

“I look like I look now,” said Lynnette. “Nobody would have known to look at me. I was not in distress. I was not having difficulty breathing. None of that.”

“I think it finally hit me that my mom was actually the patient when we went back and saw her in the bed,” said Stephanie.

“I had to come to terms that I was 47. I’d had a heart attack…and I felt like a total failure,” admitted Lynnette.

“I could have easily lost her,” added Alyssa, who is Lynnette’s younger daughter. “It didn’t hit me until a few days later.”

“I felt like I failed my family and I failed my friends and I most of all, failed myself,” said Lynnette.

Her doctor reminded her that she was given a second chance.

“He said you have to wrap your head around the whole concept that you now have coronary artery disease and you’ve had a heart attack but you survived,” she said.

At age 60 and above, women are at a greater risk for a heart attack.

Lynnette was 47.

“I’m trying to think back and there was no other indication,” she said.

“As far as cardiovascular risk factors go, there really was not a lot…to speak of in terms of things that would have said, when you looked at her or talked to her before her heart attack, this is someone who we have a high suspicion is going to have a heart attack in the next year,” explained Dr. Kapphahn.

“I was aware of my blood pressure,” added Lynnette. “I knew what my blood pressure was. I knew what my cholesterol was. I had my annual appointment. Is there anything I could have done differently? Eaten better, exercised more…I think the biggest thing with me was stress. I’m a very ‘type A’ person.”

Like many women, Lynnette had a lot of responsibilities.

“My physicians tell me now that probably my biggest warning was the fatigue and being tired,” she said. “But again, who runs to the physician or runs to an appointment to see the doctor because they are tired?”

Lynnette spent more than three months in cardiac rehab, but it wasn’t easy.

“My recovery was like the grieving process,” she explained. “I denied up to the point where I couldn’t deny anymore.”

A lot has changed since then, she’s now a grandmother, and is getting used to  what she calls her “new normal”: Medication, a healthier diet, and more exercise.

“I’ve realized that life is short,” she added. “Life is precious. Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s kind of an old saying but it is so true.”

“Lynette, I think, is a very typical person of many people who are walking around in their life,” said Dr. Kapphahn. “They have families, they have active lives, they’re not necessarily unhealthy and they aren’t somebody who is completely unaware of their risk factor…yet despite that, she absolutely did have an event.”

“I feel as a mom, a wife, a daughter that we take care of everybody else first,” said Lynnette. “We put ourselves kind of at the bottom of the list. I’ve had to move myself up the list.  Mentally and emotionally I’m good. Physically, it’s a constant struggle. But I feel good. I go in regularly. I get my numbers checked. I’m watching my blood pressure…my cholesterol.”

Lynnette says her calling now is sharing her experience.

Even if it only encourages one person to check in with their doctor.

“Just to be able to impact change, or help somebody realize that it’s okay she said. “But truly, how important it is to know your own body. Know your health. To take care of your body and take care of your health. It is a fragile fragile thing and it can change at any time.”

“I’m always on everybody about how to eat better and things like that,” said Stephanie. “But I can always improve myself and with having that family history, now, we’re at a higher risk.”

“If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody else,” warned Lynnette. “I just feel like because I was allowed and I’m honored to still be here…then I need to share my story with people.”

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