WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL)—A room full of strength and positivity was seen at United Regional’s 16th Annual Heart of a Woman event on February 8th. Two women were this year’s feature spotlight on heart disease awareness; this is Roberta Richardson’s story.
Roberta is a mother, a wife, a sister, an accomplished interior designer, and a survivor. Last June, she was in the clutches of a silent killer that claims the lives of nearly 647,000 Americans every year.
“I had been working full time and had noticed a shortness of breath and a tightening in my chest several times when I would walk any extended period of time, and just thought, a little bit of exercise, I kind of felt like I was out of shape,” says Roberta, “and so it wasn’t until Thursday I really started to have a lot of pain, I thought it was maybe my stomach…so later that day I called my gastro and he said come in on Friday the next morning and that night I really started having severe pain.”
The following day, Roberta’s husband rushed her to the hospital, only to find a grim discovery; she was on the verge of having a massive heart attack and needed to be wheeled up to United Regional’s cath lab for emergency surgery while being fully awake.
“As he was inserting the stent, I started feeling even more pressure and I said this is the pain I was having so severely last night and he said remember that pain, he said that’s what it feels like when you’re having a heart attack,” says Roberta.
Later, Roberta was informed that 99% of her main artery or “widowmaker” was blocked. For a healthy woman in her 50’s, this was a shock for her, but Roberta’s family history quickly provided answers.
“My dad was 47 when he had his first heart attack. All the men in that family have some sort of heart disease, but I didn’t translate that to being the daughter.”
The man who saved Roberta’s heart, Dr. Bruce Palmer, says while you can’t change your family history of heart disease the best thing you can do is to get checked.
“There are few tests we can do that predict your likelihood of having heart disease if you have a family history,” says Dr. Palmer. “We obviously look at lipid panels but there’s some outside testing such as coronary calcium scores we can do to see if you’re forming atherosclerosis. “
In Roberta’s case, Dr. Palmer said time was on her side.
“She got in early and we were able to find the problem before it caused major damage and at last check, her heart has gone completely normal.”
Studies show in the U.S., 1 in 4 women die of heart disease every year, and symptoms of a heart attack or stroke can be different in women than they are in men.
When it comes to family history, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says genetics likely play some role in high blood pressure, heart disease, and other related conditions. Yet, it’s also likely that people with a family history of heart disease share common environments and other factors that may increase their risk. While they’re young and healthy right now, Roberta’s two children will have to get tested for heart disease at some point in their lives as well.
To lower your risk of heart disease: consider quitting smoking, lower your cholesterol, track your blood pressure, diabetics need to watch their weight, diet and blood sugar levels, increase your physical activity, and get a yearly check-up. Roberta says if she hadn’t gone to the hospital that night, she probably wouldn’t have made it.
“I encourage everyone. I was embarrassed to go because I thought it was just going to be my stomach and I’d be sent home and I think a lot of woman think that…”
Even though Roberta will be on medication for the rest of her life, she says:
“I feel great, I’m getting back to the swing of everything, enjoying my granddaughter…I’m honored to share my story and hopefully touch someone in the community.”
For a link to United Regional’s cardiac services, click here.
For our previous story on United Regional’s cardiac rehab, click here.