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Published on July 01, 2021

'So grateful': Doctor's Clutch Diagnosis Saves a Life

Carmen Varnado-Wixx

Carmen Varnado-Wixx's life was saved at the EvergreenHealth Emergency Department thanks to a quick diagnosis from one of our physicians.

54-year-old Carmen had been suffering from some shoulder pain.

Then she began feeling nauseous and started to vomit, which she attributed to eating some bad pizza.

Her husband urged her to go to the Emergency Department, but Carmen made an appointment with her primary care physician instead.

On the drive there, her husband said, "Change of plans…I'm taking you straight to the hospital."

That turned out to be a good call.

As her workup was starting in the Emergency Department, Carmen went into full cardiac arrest.

She was resuscitated by one of the doctors and then taken to the cardiac catheterization lab where the on-call cardiologist met her.

A Tricky Diagnosis

One of Carmen's arteries was 99% blocked, but that wasn't her only life-threatening problem.

Luckily for her, her doctor recognized the uncommon combination of cardiac crises that resulted in her symptoms and brought her to the hospital in the first place.

The doctor discovered Carmen was experiencing a rare condition called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, which is also known as broken heart syndrome.

The condition is triggered by intense emotional or physical stress and causes rapid and usually severe heart muscle weakness, which decreases the heart's pumping and increases the chance it can go into lethal heart rhythms.

In Carmen's case, recent physical stresses had left her heart pumping at just half its normal function.

Also, Carmen was one of the very rare people who have both stress-induced cardiomyopathy and coronary disease at the same time.

While the diagnosis is tricky since the symptoms look a lot like an acute heart attack, stress-induced cardiomyopathy is treatable.

It's more common in females, usually postmenopausal women, and is rarely seen with an already existing coronary blockage.

A stent was placed in Carmen's blocked coronary artery, and she was placed on heart failure medications and began EvergreenHealth's cardiac rehabilitation program.

"I learned about the symptoms of a heart attack, the nutritionist has taught me about healthier food options, and we exercise three times a week," she says.

A month later, follow-up tests showed that her heart function had returned to normal.

"She saved my life."

"I'm so grateful," Carmen shares. "Grateful that my cardiac arrest happened in the ED and not in the car, and grateful that [my doctor] had the expertise to uncover the stress-induced cardiomyopathy."

"With my family history, I knew I was probably going to need [my doctor's] care sooner or later," she adds. "I just didn't know it was going to be sooner. She saved my life."

For More Information

Learn more about Cardiac Care at EvergreenHealth

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