Yes, you read that right. I’m 37, a woman, a marathon runner, a healthy cook. I’m in shape with a normal BMI, an active, healthy, young(ish) mom of two. I’m not even stressed out.

And I had a heart attack on Saturday night, late, maybe Sunday morning. It’s hard to tell, since it wasn’t diagnosed until I was in the operating room. Everyone I know wants to know why.

Me too.

Except I do kind of know: Genetics trumps all. I have a family history of high cholesterol and heart disease, and I’ve known about my high numbers for 10 years. But, I’ve been haphazard about treating it, mostly because cholesterol drugs and having babies don’t mix and having a family was more important to me. Well, being haphazard is no longer an option.

I also know some other things that I ignored. That heart disease is the number one killer of women. That women often explain away their symptoms: “I must have lifted something funny, hurt myself in yoga, maybe its heartburn,” all excuses I used Friday and Saturday when the pain started, even Saturday night as I whimpered through piercing back pain and took eight Advil in the span of nine hours. That women’s heart attacks present differently and seem somehow, inexplicably, hard for doctors to spot.

So what happened is this – I started to hurt in my middle back (between shoulder blades) on Friday. I took Advil and used one of the aforementioned excuses. Saturday it still hurt, took Advil some more and the pain came and went. Saturday night I went to bed at midnight and that’s when the real pain began. I was sure it was reflux and propped myself up on the couch and suffered. Took handfuls of Advil and dulled the pain enough to sleep. In the morning I sat up and promptly broke into a sweat. Then I knew something was really wrong.

So I  . . . ate breakfast, took a shower, and drove myself to the ER. Sunday was camp drop-off day for my older son, so my husband stayed back in case I didn’t make it home in time. I didn’t.

After five hours in the ER, the only test that indicated anything was for an enzyme your heart secretes when it is injured or in trauma. EKG=normal, chest x-ray=normal, CT scan = normal. Until the blood test came back, the doctor was about to send me home with Percoset for straining my back. Wow.

I was admitted and brought to a regular hospital wing. Saw a cardiologist who actually said with a straight face “I don’t think your back is involved with this,” until a nurse took him aside to listen serious about my pain descriptions and the second enzyme test came back even higher. Then things happened pretty quickly.

I was moved to the ICU and prepped for an angiogram. They found total blockage in one artery and installed a stent. There is some early-stage blockage in the other arteries as well.

Back in the ICU the pain did not subside, so I was in for a second angiogram within two hours. The stent was fine, all was as expected, so it became just about trying to manage the pain, which neither morphine nor Percoset would dent.

But, by 7 a.m. Monday the pain was gone and I slept all day (well, as much as you sleep in an ICU where the blood pressure cuff goes off every 15 minutes). By Monday night I was in the cardiac ward, and Tuesday in cardiac rehab with five old guys in hospital gowns walking up steps with a heart monitor. I’m sure it was an interesting sight.

I was discharged Wednesday with five new prescriptions and 4-12 weeks of cardiac rehab ahead of me. It is unlikely there’s a marathon in my near future.

But, there is good news. The cardiologist we saw thinks my heart may actually completely heal, and that I should be stronger and healthier in the future, and as my brother worries, probably faster. (If you were running on 2/3 of your oxygen, you’d be slow too!) I’ll be running again for sure. I’m out to prove something now. I also know that I will  be alive to raise my sons and grow old with my husband.

So here’s the bottom line, my friends, and listen up: Exercise (alot), eat right (mostly plants), and don’t ignore your body. If you need meds, take them. See a doctor. Have a plan.

For real.


  1. Wow. Glad you were proactive about going to the ER. My dad had a heart attack while visiting me in Minnesota a couple years ago. He blamed it on diving in to the pool funny. He drove all the way from Ohio to MN with this pain. He got lucky I am paranoid. He would’ve died. I am turning 39 soon and your story really spoke to Me. I am th opposite of you, not healthy and hate running and eat crap. Thanks for the wake up call.

  2. Thank you for reading and posting Suzi! Yes, please do what you can to learn about your own heart health. I’m on a mission to spread the word to women!

  3. Ayme Zemke says:

    Wow Jen, I didn’t know this had happened to you. So glad you are ok. I have a family history of high cholesterol as well and have been working to keep my high numbers at bay. Feeling re-inspired right now to do even better. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. Thank you for this blog. My husband who just turned 38 a month ago, just got out of the hospital today after a similar experience. He is a very fit, not overweight, triathlete (ie. he doesn’t have any of the typical risk factors – his cholesterol is even normal). Yesterday an angiogram revealed he had a large (longer than 2″) complete blockage in one artery and has other arteries that are 20-30% blocked as well. He now has 2 stents in… and we’re trying to figure out how things are going to go moving forward. I will definitely follow your blog…

  5. Oh my gosh – I started browsing through your blog (love that you have recipes here!) and saw that we have more in common. Our 1st son was born almost 2 months premature due to HELLP syndrome.

  6. Lynn,

    I’m glad your husband is home and okay! And, I’m very glad you found this blog. I’ll be thinking of you when I find and post new recipes! Please let me know how you like them.

    It’s very fortunate that your husband is already an athlete – exercise is so important! Will he be going to cardiac rehab? I found that enormously helpful, physically of course, but mostly mentally.

    Thank you for your comments and best of luck to both of you! Keep in touch . . .


  7. I had a heart attack last October at 42. I was not as healthy as you, but it surprised me anyway! I had 100% blockage of my LAD. Glad you survived!


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