Heart Health Fair: My perfect heart attack

Cayman’s second annual Heart Health Fair held earlier this year highlighted two important heart attack cases that were shared with the attending public. These cases were particularly important because both heart attack victims did not show classic heart attack symptoms that we all associate with having a heart attack – i.e. crushing chest pain or shooting pains down one arm. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull reports.

Cindy Walters is a vegan who did not drink, smoke or have particularly high stress levels. She did however have high blood cholesterol levels, which were being monitored by her doctor and she was slightly overweight, yet she did not think she would ever be a heart attack victim.

“About a week before my heart attack my heart began racing back and forth. It felt a bit like a fish flopping around in my chest,” she recalls.

“About a week later I was in a meeting with my boss at work,” she continues (Cindy is a paramedic). “I experienced a queasy sensation (but not enough to actually be sick) and pain in my teeth as well as pain in my shoulder and around my bra strap area. Suddenly my heart began racing. As a trained first responder I knew I was having a cardiac arrest. Through my training I knew that my chances of survival were much higher if I remained calm. I called my husband to get him to take me to hospital and managed to take an aspirin that was in my desk. Once I got to hospital I told them I believed I was in the middle of an acute cardiac arrest and I was then rushed to the ICU. They could not believe how calm I was but I knew that it was really important to remain so.”

Cindy says a variety of tests were performed on her which indicated that she was correct. Her condition meant that she had to be airlifted to the States for possible emergency bypass surgery.

“The worst part of the entire incident was at that point, saying goodbye to my family before being airlifted off,” she says. “That, and the descent into the airport in America. I developed a massive headache because of the medication that I had been given, apparently quite a common side effect for patients who then have to be airlifted. Apart from that I did not suffer any excruciating chest pain as is often depicted when someone is having a heart attack.”

Doctors discovered that she had a blockage to one of her arteries and she also suffered an irregular heartbeat, all of which could be successfully treated by aggressive medication. The good news was that she had not suffered any major damage to her heart.

From this point onwards Cindy has made it her mission to teach people how to change their lives so that they don’t suffer the same fate.

“I almost lost my life,” she says. “I was so angry and upset at this that I made it a mission to tell others about my experience. In particular I have realised that I am not superwoman and that I cannot do everything (just as most women try to do). The aftermath is difficult – you go through a period of mourning for the loss of who you once were. You are depressed, angry and fearful and you might tend to take all these emotions out on the people closest to you.”

Lifestyle changes such as swapping fatty sugary foods for wholesome fruits and vegetables have made an important difference in Cindy’s life, as have taking up regular exercise.

“We are so fortunate in Cayman to have such a wonderful location that is so conducive to a healthy lifestyle. I urge everyone to take full advantage of the sand and the sea and take regular exercise.”

Cindy concludes, “I also urge everyone to pay attention to their health and not to ignore any symptoms that they might have. Listen to your body.”

Larry Abrahams is a member of Cayman’s Triathlon Association and has undertaken triathlons, i.e. swimming, cycling and running) in Cayman since they first began, back in 1995. Larry is extremely fit.

He says he began experiencing some chest discomfort during a cycling time trial. “I was cycling against a lady at the time so I really didn’t want to lose the trial!” he says, smiling. “However I did notice a slight discomfort in the chest area but I just put it down to inhaling cold air down my trachea.”

Larry says he also experienced numbness in his left arm so he went to hospital just in case. “I wasn’t experiencing a heart attack at that time but I just wanted to get it checked out,” he confirms.

Larry continued to exercise at a fast pace and noticed the numbness again, but just ignored it.

“It was when I noticed the chest pain again, this time during a swim, rather than on a bike ride, that I took notice, as the pain could not be attributed to inhaling cold air,” he says.
Heading to Miami’s Cleveland Clinic, Larry was given a whole host of tests and one such test revealed a blockage in one of his arteries. A simple 25 minute keyhole surgery procedure fixed the problem and allowed him to fly home the next day.

“I was told not to swim for a week but I could ride and cycle. It was incredible. I can now exercise just as efficiently as I was able to before the procedure, in fact, I’d say even better as the blockage was holding me back from reaching my goals. The worst part of the entire experience was not being able to drink coffee while I was in hospital!”



Cindy Walters, Dr Sook Yin and Larry Abraham