Survival stories: Women share experiences surviving heart attacks

Survival stories: Women share experiences surviving heart attacks

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- February is American Heart Month. It is a time to bring awareness to the leading cause of death in both men and women: cardiovascular disease.

Two women who survived heart attacks shared their stories with CBS 58 in an effort to spread a message to others. They both were the picture of health when they had their heart attacks and want everyone to know that it can happen to anyone.

"I didn't know what was happening to me, I had no idea," Kim Christenson said.

Christenson was just finishing a workout in 2016 when she felt pain throughout her chest and body. Within minutes, she called 911 and was taken to the hospital. While there, her heart stopped.

“I spent a day and a half in the ICU and I had a stent put in," She said. "I had what is called a total occlusion, 100 percent clog in the left anterior descending artery. There's a name for this and it's not a nice one. It's called the widow maker. So people die from this all the time."

In the past, it was thought heart disease was more common in men, but doctors say that is simply not the case.

"We treat patients -- men and women -- about the same volume, it's just part of the environment of heart disease," Aurora Health Care cardiovascular surgeon Dr. John Crouch said.

That is why Christenson wants to share her story.

“I think the thing that is most understandable to women is that we never put ourselves first," she said. "We are more often caring for someone else and we are the last person on the list. My suggestion is put yourself at the top of the list every once in a while.”

She also wants people to know it can happen to anyone.

"I have a cholesterol issue, so now I'm being treated for that and I've always had that, but because it wasn’t a number that shocked my doctors, they said because you lead a healthy lifestyle, you exercise, you eat well you know, you're going to be fine, nothing bad is going to happen," she said. "Something very bad did happen and I'm extraordinarily lucky to be alive."

Eighty-year-old Pat Treutelaar agrees.

“I've had five heart attacks, two codes, two heart surgeries and here I am, I feel perfect," she said.

Treutelaar had her first heart attack at 34 years old. At first, doctors thought it was a fluke. Although she was seemingly healthy, she knew something was wrong and fought for her diagnosis. She then became the youngest woman in the world to have bypass surgery. Since then, she hasn't slowed down.

“I am just so thrilled to be alive, after my heart surgery, I did marry again, and my reward was a little baby girl," Treutelaar said.

Both Treutelaar and Christenson are grateful to be alive and to tell their stories, hoping it makes a difference even for just one person.

"Don't ever think you're too young to have heart trouble," Treutelaar said. "If I even save one woman who maybe wonders why she doesn’t feel right, it would be worth everything I've gone through."

Both women have annual check-ups and are doing well. Dr. Crouch said the best thing is to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly. It is also important to check in with your doctor with any symptoms you think are out of the ordinary.

The American Heart Association has more information on healthy living and cardiovascular disease on its website.

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