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Look for the signs

Rapid response may have saved Fowler woman’s life

Submitted photo Heart patient Elizabeth Carol Prokop works at the registration desk at the Center for Radiology at Steward Health Center, Elm Road, Bazetta.

FOWLER — “I had a rough year in 2019,” heart patient Carol Prokop, 58, of Fowler said.

It began in August with an injury that sent her to the emergency room. That’s when doctors detected her high blood pressure. Prokop ended up on medication for that.

“It went good for about a month, and then I was … again.”

This time it was a kidney stone compounded by AFib — atrial fibrillation. The heart’s upper chambers beat out of coordination with the lower chambers.

That earned her a stress test two weeks later, “which I passed with flying colors,” she said.

A month later, Prokop was back to work at her job registering patients at the Center for Radiology at Steward Health Center, Elm Road, Bazetta.

“I worked the whole week. Friday night (Oct. 18, 2019), we went out for a movie and dinner,” she said. “That night, I had massive heart burn. I wanted to go to the bathroom to vomit.”

She figured something she ate earlier that evening wasn’t agreeing with her.

“My husband (Dave) went for the Tums. He came into the bathroom and saw me rolled up on the floor in pain. He said, ‘I don’t think Tums are going to do it.’ He called the ambulance.”

Catheterization at the Cardiology and Vascular Medicine Center at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Warren revealed three blockages in arteries of the heart, two at around 90 percent or more and one at 75 percent.

Stents were placed to alleviate the worst two blockages. The third blockage was in another part of the heart.

“I came back two weeks later for the third stent, but I had improved from 75 percent blockage to a 50 percent blockage, so I didn’t have to have the third stent,” she said.

It was the quick response in getting to the hospital that spared her any significant heart damage and possibly saved her life, she said. “Had I been home alone, I might not have made it,” she said. “I didn’t have my phone with me to go puke.

“When my dad had his heart attack, had he not been at work, he would have gone straight home and went to bed because he said he just didn’t feel good,” she said. “I don’t think he would be with us now if he had done that. The people at work forced him to go the hospital.”

Her father was 57 when he had that heart attack — which he didn’t know he was having. It’s the same age Prokop was when she took her ambulance ride for a heart episode that she didn’t know she was having.

RAPID RESPONSE

Getting treatment as quickly as possible is key to limiting heart damage, Alexa Polinsky, marketing director for Trumbull Regional Medical Center, said. “Our heart team is trained to diagnose chest pain quickly and begin treatment as soon as possible to help prevent, or even reverse, muscle damage to the heart.”

The hospital boasts the highest-level of chest pain accreditation certified by the American College of Cardiology — Chest Pain v6 Accreditation, she said.

“Trumbull Regional was awarded Chest Pain Center v6 Accreditation with Primary PCI and Resuscitation based on a rigorous on-site evaluation of the staff’s ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack,” Polinsky said. “The hospital is the Mahoning Valley’s only accredited chest pain center.”

PCI stands for percutaneous coronary intervention, also known as coronary angioplasty. It is a nonsurgical procedure that opens narrowed or blocked coronary arteries with a balloon to relieve symptoms of heart disease or reduce heart damage during or after a heart attack.

None of that matters if the patient ignores the symptoms, Polinsky said.

“She had a completely normal week at work but felt horrible indigestion,” she said of Prokop’s case.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 730,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. The most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort.

However, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms, Polinsky noted. “Other heart attack symptoms include, but are not limited to, tingling or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulders, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, cold sweat, unusual tiredness, heartburn-like feeling, nausea or vomiting, sudden dizziness and fainting.”

TAKING A WALK

“It’s amazing how much better you feel after the stents,” Prokop said.

She also speculates that the kidney stone attack might have been a blessing in disguise. “If I hadn’t had the kidney stone, I wouldn’t have been on blood thinners and then this might have been much worse,” she said.

Two weeks before heart incident, she and her husband visited Pittsburgh for her birthday. “We walked and walked and walked,” she said. “I didn’t have any problem with that.”

Until it came to stairs. Climbing winded her. “I thought it was because I was recovering from the kidney stone.”

A little more than a month after the heart episode, Prokop entered the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Trumbull Regional to began working out under the watchful eyes of certified clinical exercise physiologists. Treatment plans are designed around individual risk factors with the goal of reducing the chance of further heart events and improving physical fitness, according to the hospital.

“I did cardiac rehab from December until March, when it was shut down by COVID-19,” she said. Then she kept working out on her own.

Prokop said she’s back to plain, ordinary everyday life, but watching her red meat and salt intake — and working out.

“I never exercised. I didn’t see the need for it because I spent my whole life trying to gain weight. Then I hit my 40s and I started gaining weight, but I still didn’t see the need for it — until I had my heart attack.”

Walking is her main exercise. She and her husband also have an exercise bicycle in the basement. Husband Dave walks up and down the basement steps a number of times to get his heart rate up, and then gets on the bike to start pedaling.

Both her son, Daniel, 31, and daughter, Rachel, 33, also are working out and being more cautious, knowing that heart problems are part of their heritage.

“Dad lost four brothers to massive heart attacks,” she said. The family histories for both of her parents are filled with heart issues, she said.

Prokop’s advice to others: “If something doesn’t feel right, check it out, even if everybody says you’re OK. You know you’re own body. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking for the answer.”

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