Three months before her 40th birthday, Rhonda McDonnell had a heart attack.
Rhonda is a healthy, active, single mom of three kids. She is a non-smoker with no family history of heart problems. Rhonda did not know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, so when it happened to her, she had no idea what was wrong with her and why she suddenly got very sick! Rhonda shares her story during Heart Month to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
Rhonda is partner in her family farm operation where she works as a chemical applicator. Her work is strenuous and her days are long. On Day One of Rhonda’s heart attack, she was loading her sprayer when she began to feel sick to her stomach, and couldn’t catch her breath. She also noticed her teeth were hurting and her joints ached; she concluded that she must be getting the flu.
With daily commitments to be met before she could pick up her daughter after school, she labored on, but then she noticed an achiness in her arm pit and her back. She had just put four-52 lb. bags of ammonium sulfate in her sprayer so she assumed she had pulled a muscle or two. Rhonda made it a mile down the road when she stopped to throw up. She was really sick and needed help!
Rhonda called her brothers to come and get her, recognizing now that she was going to be late picking up her daughter. Now her heart was racing and because she has experienced anxiety attacks before, she attributed all her symptoms to anxiety and worry about getting her work done and picking up her child. She didn’t have time to be sick with the flu!
Her brothers brought her anxiety medication, however, when they arrived, they recognized that she was really sick. They begged Rhonda to go to the doctor, but she refused and went home. The closest doctor was the emergency room an hour away, and Rhonda simply didn’t have time for that. She took her anxiety meds and told her brothers she would be fine. She picked up her daughter from the school and had her daughter drive them home. Rhonda’s symptoms persisted through the night but she remained at home.
On Day Two of Rhonda’s heart attack, she went back to work. She still didn’t feel well but her jaw and armpit had stopped hurting. Her back still was somewhat achy and she was weak from being sick. She put in a 10-hour day. She came home, made supper for her daughter and went to bed.
On Day three of Rhonda’s heart attack, she went to work again, but she was having severe heart burn so she started eating Tums. Her jaw had started to hurt again and she figured she still had the flu. About 2 o’clock that afternoon, the anxiety came back again and Rhonda was hot and sweaty. She had finally had enough and decided to go home. As she was driving through town, she made a smart decision and stopped at the local clinic to be evaluated. She told them about her anxiety, flu-like symptoms, and back pain. She wasn’t horribly sick at that point but she simply did not feel well. They checked her blood pressure and it was 110/68. Good. They did a chest x-ray and that was fine. They hooked her up to the heart machine and discovered she was having a heart attack! In spite of all her symptoms, Rhonda was in denial and did not believe she was having a heart attack. She finally agreed to go to Rapid City, an hour away, to the emergency room.
Rhonda’s right coronary artery had torn and it had caused a 95% blockage in one spot and 85% blockage in another. Rhonda was lucky to be alive. Rhonda now admits she did everything wrong. She recognizes that she did not know signs and symptoms of a heart attack. She had them all: jaw pain, flu-like symptoms, nausea, shortness of breath, armpit ache, and acid reflux.
Rhonda’s story is a classic case of a healthy, 39 year old, busy and active woman not knowing the symptoms of heart attack, and too busy to be sick.
Rhonda has chosen to share her story during February, Heart Month, so that other women may be aware and recognize the signs of a heart attack. Rhonda is lucky to be alive and hopes that by sharing her story, others might be saved from a tragic ending.