Jenna Janes' Story
It was at my son’s football game on September 26, 2019 that I felt the first symptoms of an impending heart disaster - throat pain, chest pressure, left arm and shoulder pain. But my mind would not accept it for what it was. It had to be something else - the heat, dehydration - something else. I was only 44 years old and in great shape. My total cholesterol was only 100, my blood pressure consistently 120 over 70 and a resting pulse rate of 56. On top of that I worked out five days a week and taught two weight lifting classes and two senior strength classes at my local gym each week. So I knew it had to be something else - most likely I was just too hot sitting there in the bleachers. So I got down and got under the shade of a tree. A lady walked over and asked if I was alright. I told her how I was feeling and that I thought I was just too hot. Wiser than me, she gave me a baby aspirin. Within ten minutes I was feeling better and felt confirmed that it was the heat.
Three days later, after I had finished my classes, I had the same symptoms again. I didn’t have an aspirin but the symptoms again subsided, so I wrote this one off to stress and determined that I was going to do something to address my stress levels.
The following Sunday I was sitting in church and had the symptoms again, but, once again they subsided after 10 minutes. I did not realize that symptoms could subside and you still be in danger. My husband was rather urgent in telling me I needed to go to the ER and get checked, but once again I brushed it off - after all it went away and I felt fine.
On Monday I went to the gym and finished my workout. On the way home I had another spell of the symptoms. I called my husband and this time he insisted that I drive to Johnston Health’s Clayton hospital ER - which is, thankfully, a certified Chest Pain Center. Chris Wood, a Physician Assistant at the Clayton Chest Pain Center and the crew were amazing. He ran blood work, chest x-ray. He then had me admitted and transferred to Smithfield, where they have a Cardiac Cath lab, for more testing.
I was admitted under the care of Dr. Eric Janis. He was very kind and calming. He ordered a stress test, echocardiogram and MRI. I still tried to convince myself I was fine, but I was too nervous to lay in bed, I sat up in a recliner in my room. Dr. Janis came in and must have sensed my fear. He sat down and pulled his chair up knee to knee with me and looked in my eyes and talked to me very personally - on my level. He explained the tests and processes. He reassured me and calmed my fears, taking all the time I needed. I am so grateful for his patience, and kindness. I did not ever imagine that at age 44, I would have a cardiologist, much less a favorite cardiologist - but he is now mine!
I felt I didn’t do well on the stress test, and Dr. Janis confirmed that I did not pass and that he was ordering a diagnostic cardiac catheterization. He introduced me to Dr. Matthew Hook, who was to administer the catheterization. Dr. Hook and his team were also very kind and supportive. I know you can look at what they did for me as “doing their job,” but they were beyond amazing to me. There is a difference between doing your job and ministering to people’s needs. They all did both.
The cath was done through my wrist and revealed the problem as clear as black and white in the images from the procedure. A 99% blockage in the main descending artery down the front of my heart made that artery basically disappear from the cath image. This is the artery that when totally blocked results in the heart attack that is commonly referred to as the widow-maker. I did not have a heart attack, but, in spite of all the reasons I thought I was fine, I was, in fact, only a heartbeat from what is often a life-ending, and at the very least a life-altering heart attack. Dr. Hook and his team installed a stent at the site of the blockage. The large artery reappeared in the images as blood flow was restored.
Back in my room I could feel an immediate increase in my energy level. I didn’t realize how much of my energy I had gradually lost over time. Dr. Hook and Physician Assistant Kyle Pusey came to my room and went over the results. Kyle stayed and answered my questions and went over things in great detail. I was prescribed medicines to prevent future issues. I am back at work, teaching and lifting and feeling great.
I came away with two things beyond a new lease on life, and I am sharing my story because I want others, who may find themselves in my shoes, to know them. First is a true gratitude for the quality of care we have available, here close to home, through our two hospitals and their wonderful staffs and doctors. Second and most importantly - if you experience symptoms that are associated with heart attack, you need to listen to your heart and not your head. I realize how fortunate I was. Not everyone out there will get four warnings, or even one. The cardio doctors and nurses at Johnston Health call me their unicorn because it is so very rare for anyone with my condition to have so many close calls and not to have a major heart attack. Don’t take chances trying to rationalize it away - go get help - it is closer and easier that you can imagine.