"You shouldn't discount a pain like that."

A story of heart attack recognition from a UNC Cardiac Rehabilitation patient.


Risk Factors

On July 15, 2012, Paula Gee Davis was exercising on her ski machine, like she did every day, when she felt a pain shoot down her left arm and end in her thumb. She also had pain behind her lower teeth; the pain wrapped around both sides of her jaw. It felt like she needed a root canal. There was also pressure on her chest, as if a heavy weight was resting on it. Thinking she had been working out too hard, she took a short break. But after 10 more minutes of exercise, the pain hadn’t gone away.

“I told my husband that I was going to take a shower to relax,” Paula says. “Then I headed over to a neighbor’s house. I still had the pain and realized that it wasn’t going away. I started to think it would be very rude to die in my neighbor’s house.”

Her husband, Marc, took Paula to the Emergency Department at UNC Hospitals. After cardiac monitoring, her heart attack indicators were high, but not off the charts. At this point, she had been having pain for almost five hours. But it wasn’t the dramatic chest-clutching kind of pain seen in movies.

“The ER physician told us, ‘Your symptoms are very distressing’, but I didn’t believe it was a heart attack,” Paula says. “I thought people who had heart attacks had intense pain, and then the pain stopped or they died.”

However, Paula and Marc found out that Paula had indeed been having a heart attack. “My cardiologist, Dr. Paula Miller, and the other physicians were extremely supportive,” she says.
“No one judged me because I took so long to come to the ER or because I didn’t recognize the signs of a heart attack.

“I know now that I should have called 911,” concedes Paula. “When anyone has a chest pain, and they can’t discern what it is, they need to be more responsive than I was. You shouldn’t discount a pain like that.”

One month after her heart attack, Paula started Cardiac Rehabilitation at the UNC Wellness Center at Meadowmont in Chapel Hill.

Paula explains, “I wanted to do everything I could to help myself, and UNC Cardiac Rehab truly focuses on the total health of the patient.”

Though having a heart attack changed her life, Paula says, “It’s not the worst thing in the world. I want people to know that having a heart attack doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing the activities that you love.”

After all, having lupus and diabetes, Paula has always understood the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including daily exercise and proper diet.

“People need to be aware of the symptoms, get treatment quickly, and follow your doctor’s orders during your recovery.”

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