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Women & Heart Disease—Pay Attention to the Signs

Learn about two unique survivors—each with a story of her own. These are not stories you expect to see when it comes to heart disease. These women are healthy and had no reason to believe that they were at risk. They range in age from 42 to 71; they are your daughter, your mother and your friend. 

No Symptoms & the Picture of Good Health

Melissa Silver is an active and healthy 71-year-old Westlake Village resident. She golfs, hikes and does TRX fitness, so when she learned she needed mitral replacement surgery, she was admittedly taken aback.

“I had no idea that there was a problem,” says Silver. “I had absolutely no symptoms— just a gut feeling that I should get checked out.” Silver had just switched primary care providers and during her annual physical her EKG looked odd.

Unlike many heart patients, Melissa was not an emergency case— but her situation was serious. “The hardest part was the anticipation,” says Silver. “We had travel plans that I could not change, so, I scheduled the surgery two months out.”

“Melissa was active but several tests indicated her heart was suffering,” says cardiac surgeon Dr. Gregory Fontana. “She had leaky mitral and tricuspid valves. Her heart was dilating which indicated that although she had no symptoms her heart was decompensating. We performed a minimally invasive procedure to repair both valves. Her result was excellent and she went home three days after surgery. The small incision resulted in a prompt recovery and return to her active lifestyle.”

Only four days after her surgery, Silver was able to walk up and down her stairs at home.

“It’s honestly surreal,” says Silver. “My heart was stopped and I was on a heart lung machine during surgery and I am living today as if nothing happened—except for a few scars.” Silver was walking within a week of surgery and playing golf just a few months later. “If anything, I had to stop myself from being too active,” she says.

Three months post-surgery, Silver feels great. She is doing everything she did before.

“We as women tend to ignore things, but in my case, I had nothing to ignore,” says Silver. “I just had great doctors who worked together to make sure I was well. At the very least, as you get older, get regular check-ups. You never know what might be brewing.”

Pay Attention to your Body

It was 1 in the morning, and 42-year-old Teri Edelson was downstairs in the condo she shared with her parents. Something was very wrong.

“My chest and arm hurt. I started sweating and crying due to the pain,” says Edelson. After a few moments, the feeling passed, but she knew she needed to get to the hospital. Her parents wanted to call 911, but Teri felt she was good enough to have them drive her. She got in the car and within moments was slumped over. Her parents called 911 and the ambulance met them at the entrance to the condo complex where they lived.

“Teri was experiencing a widow-maker heart attack, which occurs when the left anterior descending artery, which supplies blood to the larger, front part of the heart, is blocked at its origin,” says cardiac surgeon Dr. Vivsha Dev. “This artery serves a big portion of the heart, so it is a particularly dangerous place for a clot and a lot of damage can be done to the heart if blood flow is not restored quickly.”

“The EMT’s (emergency medical technicians) worked on me for 45 minutes and shocked my heart 13 times,” says Edelson. “They thought I was gone, but their perseverance paid off; they finally heard a faint heartbeat and got me to Los Robles soon after.”

Edelson was in the hospital for 10 days, all of which are a blur. She doesn’t remember much about the incident and has speech and cognitive issues as a result of the heart attack. Looking back, she does remember feeling tired a few months before, but otherwise, she had no noticeable symptoms.

“I’m happy. I’m alive,” she says. “This is my new normal. I can’t walk far and I can’t do two things at once, but I’m here and that’s a blessing.” Her advice to other women is simple—pay attention to your body. Go to the doctor regularly and call 911 if you suspect a heart attack. “Don’t worry about the bill! Get help fast—and learn CPR.”

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