Heart Attack Victim Finds Hope After Losing Baby


Heart Attack Symptoms Can Be Vague

"Having a heart attack was the last thing I ever would have thought of," said Wongsam.

Such was the case with Tami Kemit of Erie, Pa., who was 36 when she had her first heart attack. She had a family history -- but they were men, her father and grandfather.

She wasn't the only one affected. Kemit's daughter Brooke went into cardiac arrest at 27 days old -- she had a congenital heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia, or SVT.

Brooke's condition was brought under control, but on the day of her baptism, Kemit began to feel fatigued, as if she were coming down with the flu. By the time she saw the doctor and was put on a monitor, she learned she had been having a heart attack for three days.

"I had felt really tired and sick to my stomach," said Kemit. "I couldn't do anything and I slept most the day … I had no chest pain."

Kemit had congestive heart failure, angina and blockages in two arteries and her heart had been severely damaged. Since then, she has had four more heart attacks and had to give up her up her job as a hairdresser.

"I couldn't breathe and walk at the same time," she said.

During her second heart attack, she felt pressure spreading down her arm. With her third attack, it was jaw pain, and her fourth was identified by pain in her shoulder.

Since June 16, 2000, Kemit has had multiple angioplasty procedures, triple-bypass surgery and a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted.

Now, both mother and daughter are active in the American Heart Association's You're the Cure movement and advocating for medical research, education and screening.

"People don't understand it's the number one killer of men and women and children, not cancer," said Kemit.

"If anybody in the family -- man under 60 or woman under 30 -- has had a heart attack, you need to stress to your doctors to check it out and -- cholesterol and blood pressure -- and stay physically active."

If a doctor dismisses complaints about heart symptoms as "just in your mind," said Kemit, "you need to move on. ... Go with your instincts even if they say you are crazy."

Risks can be modified by quitting smoking, keeping a healthy diet and watching cholesterol, as well as getting medical attention for high blood pressure and diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.

"Weight ends up being the cornerstone of other risk factors," according to cardiologist Bennett.

Risk of cardiac disease increases with age and even though it affects men in greater numbers in their 60s and 70s, more women in their 80s are heart attack victims, she said.

Under the new health care law, there is hope for women with heart disease, many of whom have been previously denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

"This is very important," said Bennett. "Women have been denied in the past. Now they have also eliminated co-pays for important screenings of cholesterol and blood pressure."

She is also hopeful the Heart for Women Act, which is now in Congress, will be passed.

"It's a very important act and will mandate the FDA to analyze new drugs by gender," she said. "What works for a 56-year-old white male may not work for a 56-year-old female going through menopause."

As for Wongsam, she has made dramatic changes in her life since experiencing a heart attack in 2004. She exercises, chooses healthier foods and has participated in fitness boot camps. She even organized her own team for an American Heart Association Heart Walk.

After the loss of her baby, her life came to a standstill. She was overcome by fear and anxiety, but now she is committed to helping others.

"I Go Red for all the women out there that live with heart disease, including myself."

To evaluate your risk for heart disease, go to the American Heart Association's My Life Check tool that gives a "heart score" to let consumers know where they stand on the road to good health. It also offers an action plan for improvement.

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