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Idaho woman shares heart attack story on National Wear Red Day

JJ winters.jpg
Posted at 4:57 AM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 09:47:32-05

BOISE, Idaho — Friday is National Wear Red Day, a day to support the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement.

This campaign aims to raise awareness about women's heart health. It also encourages women to take charge of their health through physical activity, healthy eating, controlling blood pressure and managing sleep and stress.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and a heart attack in women might not look or feel like you think it would.

JJ Winter, a heart attack survivor, said when she had her heart attack, she didn't know that's what it was and didn't even think she needed to go to the hospital.

"It just felt like someone was squeezing both of my upper arms, like with their hands, and I was really tired," she said. "It wasn't enough that I would go to the doctor or think there was anything really that wrong."

JJ called her sister and told her that after googling her symptoms, she thought she might be having a heart attack, but she still didn't think anything was really wrong. She didn't think they needed to go to the hospital.

"She was like, "Oh my gosh, the hospitals are in crisis standards of care. They're overwhelmed, I just don't feel like this is a good idea," Julie Suitter, JJ's sister, said.

"I'm taking up a bed during a pandemic, when I'm probably just being hysterical," JJ said.

"She was like, "I feel so stupid. I don't really want to go. Let's turn around." and I was like, no, let's just go," Julie said.

"When we got to the er, you know, as a big sister it's my job to throw my little sister under the bus every chance I get, so I made sure that everyone that I came in contact with knew, my sister made me come here. I'm sorry, my sister made me come here, my sister made me come here," JJ said. "They checked me out, my vitals were fine, my ekg was normal, and I was ready to go home and the er doctor said, "We can't let you go home yet, we need to look in your blood and that's how we'll know for sure.""

The doctor had JJ stay for a few hours and then checked her bloodwork again.

"She got down on eye level with me and she said, "Jj, you're not going home today." she said, "You're troponin has quadrupled." she said, "I have a helicopter on the way, it'll be here in 10 minutes. And there's a cardiologist waiting for you in boise." she said, "You're having a heart attack,'" JJ said. "And I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Because I was fine. I wasn't clutching my heart and falling on the floor like you see in movies. I was walking, I was talking, I was fine."

Like JJ did at the Emergency Room, she made sure to tell the flight paramedics that her sister made her come to the hospital.

"And they looked at me and they went, "Sounds like your sister saved your life." and I thought, yep, I think she did," JJ said.

In Boise, the doctors were able to perform surgery, placing a stent in JJ's heart.

"We actually just had a follow-up appointment a couple of weeks ago. They did a full echocardiogram and gave me a clean bill of health, told me I was very very lucky. It didn't do any long-term damage and that with my stent, I will probably not expect to have any problems from here on out," JJ said.

JJ's sharing her story and what she's learned about heart disease at this year's American Heart Association Go Red for Women event.

"If I could share what I knew with other women and save just one person's life or made even one person more aware it would be worth it," JJ said.

The medical director of the Saint Alphonsus Women's Heart Care and Cardio-Oncology program, Dr. Beth Malasky said there are several warning signs women should look out for and like JJ experienced, they're not always intense chest pain.

"You may have shortness of breath with activity. You may have fatigue, unable to do the things you normally do for no good reason. Nausea, pain in your back or in your neck is always worrisome to us," Malasky said.

"Even if you're not the one experiencing the heart issue, the third party who in this case was my sister, normalized going and getting that checked out," JJ said.

For more information about Wear Red Day and women's heart health, click here. For more information on Boise's Go Red for Women Luncheon on February 25, click here.