Healthy Woman Shocked by Heart Attack, Twice

Every woman should know the risk factors and how to improve heart health.

ByABC News via GMA logo
January 29, 2010, 12:04 PM

Feb. 1, 2010— -- Many people assume that if you're in good shape, you aren't at risk for heart disease. But one otherwise healthy woman who survived two heart attacks wants others to know that isn't always the case.

"My doctor told me that if I had ignored my symptoms anymore I would have gone home and probably just never woken up one day," Christine Steiger said.

February is national heart awareness month, and The Heart Truth is an awareness campaign delivering an urgent wake-up call to American women and inspiring them to take action to protect their heart health.

The campaign, which is sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), created and introduced The Red Dress as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2002. This is a deeply personal issue for many women, including Christine Steiger.

Steiger, 45, had always been the picture of health, until Nov. 8, 2003 when that changed for the mother of two from Brecksville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

"Four days after my 39th birthday I had a heart attack, which was quite surprising because prior to that I was in the best shape of my life," Steiger said. "I was exercising every day, running five miles a day, I was a lifetime Weight Watchers member, really focused on eating right and eating healthy."

Steiger was on her way to dinner with her husband Jim, 12-year-old son Noah and 9-year-old daughter Lily when something strange occurred.

"I was taking my daughter from the car and setting her down and felt a sharp pain in my left arm, right above my elbow and just honestly thought I had pulled a muscle when I set her down," she said.

But the symptoms didn't go away. In fact, they got worse.

"As moments went on my whole arm felt numb and I got a tingling sensation almost like when you lay on your arm awkward when you're sleeping," she recalled. "But the sensation wasn't subsiding."

When Steiger began to feel light-headed and experienced pressure in her chest, her husband took her to the emergency room where doctors soon discovered that she had suffered a heart attack.

"They put in two stents and determined that I had a 90 to 95 percent blockage and that it was probably had been there for awhile from what they saw in my body," she said. "So in hindsight I realize that I had experienced symptoms and was ignoring [them]."

Steiger became even more dedicated to her healthy lifestyle, which was why she was shocked when she ended up in the hospital again a little over a year ago, in December 2008.

"I had a second heart attack almost five years later," she said. "This time my heart attack presented itself differently. I got a sharp pain between my shoulder blades and then got a pain in my left elbow. "

Steiger had no family history so she never expected she was at risk, but Dr. Nakela Cook, a medical officer at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, says that regardless of age, women need to pay attention to warning signs.

"Heart disease is the number one killer of women and it's important for women to know the risk factors," she said. "Over 60 percent of women 21-39 have at least one risk factor."

Christine takes medication -- Zocor, Plavix and aspirin -- daily and continues to watch her diet and exercise, but her own experience has taught her the value of being vigilant about her health and she urges all women to pay close attention to any signs your body may be giving you.

"And I have a husband, I have two kids, and to lose all that just because I was afraid to go to the doctor and get checked out is just ridiculous."