Hospital and Clinic
When a headache, stiff neck and backache hit Roxanne LaBlanc, she shrugged it off as a side effect of lifting boxes and being on her feet all day as part of her job in retail sales at Family Dollar in Barron. Even when the backache continued for several days, she didn’t make a connection that it might be a sign of something more serious.
That was until she took a work break in the afternoon of July 27, 2010.
“The hot air outside just hit me,” said LaBlanc, 49, of Rice Lake. “I couldn’t breathe at all.”
LaBlanc knew immediately something was terribly wrong. She called out to her co-worker, Anna Miller, that she was having a heart attack and to call 911.
“Since we joke a lot around here, I stood up to make sure she was calling and then collapsed after that,” she added.
While an ambulance was summoned to the scene, a Barron County emergency dispatcher aided Miller in performing CPR. Within a few minutes of the call, emergency medical technicians from Mayo Clinic Health System - Northland in Barron arrived to transport her to the Emergency Department.
After two minutes of evaluating LaBlanc, Dawn Mihalovic-Bayer, an Emergency Department physician assistant, spoke with a cardiologist from Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire and activated protocol for patients experiencing a STEMI, or “ST segment elevation myocardial infarction,” the most severe type of heart attack. In a STEMI, the coronary artery is completely blocked off by the blood clot, and as a result, virtually all the heart muscle supplied by the affected artery starts to die.
Minutes later, LaBlanc’s heart stopped beating and an emergency response team, including nurses, emergency medical technicians, nurse anesthetists, pharmacists and chaplains, were immediately called in to assist.
For over an hour, LaBlanc’s heart stopped beating several times. Each time, cardiac defibrillation was administered, until finally she was stable enough to be transported for heart surgery.
“It was a very difficult and prolonged resuscitation,” explained Mihalovic-Bayer. “The situation was more complicated because she hit her head when she collapsed at work, which required a CT scan to rule out head trauma.”
“Rapid assessment and plans for transport saved her life,” added Mihalovic-Bayer. “In addition, the team aspect — where everyone is in tune and very well-trained — played an important role.”
Advanced training in cardiac life support and trauma skills, along with the connection to the Level II Trauma Center staff in Eau Claire, ensures patients in rural community hospitals receive appropriate emergency care.
Upon her arrival to the Emergency Department, staff quickly contacted the Mayo One emergency medical transport helicopter to transport LaBlanc to another hospital where heart bypass surgery cleared the two blockages in her heart. Five days later, she was sent home to continue recovery.
Through it all, LaBlanc is thankful for several reasons.
“Had it happened one hour earlier, I would have been working by myself,” said LaBlanc. “Had I had it one hour later, I could have had an accident on my way home and killed someone.”
In addition, she said, “I’m lucky I had family to help.” Not to mention, the many friends who were by her side.
She’s grateful for the new outlook on life an event like this creates. “Most women put children and work before themselves,” she explained. “I’m learning to say ‘no’ to things I really don’t want to do instead of saying ‘yes,’ then being mad and frustrated on the inside.”
LaBlanc has stopped smoking and attended cardiac rehabilitation to regain strength and endurance so she can return to work.
She knows she’s extremely fortunate to be alive. Less than 8 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest survive (American Heart Association, 2010).
In hopes of preventing others from going through what she did, LaBlanc uses her story to spread the message, “If your gut tells you something is wrong, go with it and get it checked out.”
LaBlanc will remember July 27 for another reason. “My granddaughter was due that day — but she waited two weeks to be born. I was able to go see her the night she was born.”
It was just in time for LaBlanc to start her own new life.
Women and heart disease
More women than men die of heart disease each year. Women are six times as likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. Heart disease kills more women over age 65 than do all cancers combined.
One challenge for women is that their heart disease symptoms can be different from symptoms in men. The most common symptom of a heart attack in both men and women is some type of pain, pressure or discomfort in the chest. But it’s not always severe or even the most prominent symptom, particularly in women.
Women are more likely than men to have signs and symptoms unrelated to chest pain, such as:
Neck, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
Shortness of breath
Nausea or vomiting
Lightheadedness or dizziness
These signs and symptoms are more subtle than the obvious crushing chest pain often associated with heart attacks. This may be because women tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries, but also in the smaller arteries that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease.
If you experience these symptoms or think you're having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately. Don’t drive yourself to the emergency room.