COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If you had to recognize the signs of a heart attack, could you? For women, sometimes it's not as obvious. The American Heart Association recognizes February as American Heart Month and the emphasis is on education and experts want you to be hyperaware.
Josephine ("Jo") Wigfall is a 57-year-old fashion queen.
"I like strutting it," Wigfall said. "You know when you put stuff on you want to feel good about yourself."
She makes several of her own dresses… but these creations aren't solely from a creative soul. They come from a place of necessity.
"With a dress, all I need to do is design something I can button up around this driveline," she said.
That "driveline" is a cord that connects to a battery that helps her heart pump blood throughout her body. The "battery" is a device called an LVAD – or Left Ventricular Assist Device. Wigfall had surgery to implant the device after a heart attack in 2016. She received the LVAD in April of 2017.
"I thought my life was over," said Wigfall. "But it was truly the beginning because for whatever reason G-d allowed me to go through this."
What's truly remarkable about her story is not that she had the heart attack, but the fact that she didn't even know she had one. Wigfall was a nurse and worked the weekend she had the heart attack. She thought she was just fatigued and short of breath. In reality, she was having a massive heart attack and had significant coronary disease.
Dr. Patrick McCann, a Palmetto Health cardiologist and one of Wigfall's physicians, immediately treated her. He realized she was a good candidate for an LVAD when traditional medication wasn't helping her get any better. He wants every woman to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack because they can present differently in women.
"When symptoms are present don't ignore them," Dr. McCann said. "Get in and get seen by a doctor don't blow them off as ' you may be getting older' or 'just being out of shape.' When you're having a sort of symptoms that something that needs to be addressed."
According to the American Heart Association, signs and symptoms of a heart attack in a woman include: uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or fullness in the chest and pain or discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. A patient may present with shortness of breath (with or without chest pain) and cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness. The takeaway – every heart attack isn't going to be a "clutch your chest and fall down" type presentation.
Wigfall knows she got lucky and has had an amazing support system since her surgery. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer shortly after receiving her LVAD (which she has since been treated for and kicked), so she will have to wait a couple more years for a heart transplant.
She cautions every woman to learn the signs and consult your doctor.
"Don't take for gr anted that it's indigestion or you've overworked," she said. "Especially if you're smoking… maybe you think that it's on the cigarettes. But, if you have an abnormal shortness of breath, go have yourself checked out."
For more information about heart failure, attacks, and disease, go to the American Heart Association's website.