In July 2013, 44-year-old Lynn Bridgewater and her family moved from Greenwood, Ind., to St. Marys, Ga., making good on Lynn’s life-long dream of living in Coastal Georgia. The move meant leaving her job as the director of perioperative services at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, but it didn’t mean leaving behind the friendships she had with her coworkers.
Although she says she talks with someone from IU Health Methodist Hospital every day, she was shocked on Oct. 22 to receive over 50 texts, calls and emails from people at the hospital. They all had one thing on their mind: the one-year anniversary of a day that not only changed Lynn’s life, but one her coworkers say changed theirs as well.
That life-changing day was Lynn’s first day back at work after being on vacation. After a pitch-in lunch of international foods to celebrate Boss’s Day, Lynn soon found herself headed to the emergency room’s fast track clinic for Benadryl—she thought she was having a reaction to something she ate.
“I started sweating and I just wasn’t feeling great,” remembers Lynn. “I have food allergies, so I thought I was having a reaction caused by a gluten intolerance.”
In the emergency room, a paramedic student was practicing electrocardiograms (EKG), a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart, and asked if he could conduct one on her.
“I said, ‘Sure,’ and showed him the way I did them in nursing school,” says Lynn.
Seconds later, a doctor was at Lynn’s side, asking Lynn if she’d ever had a heart attack.
“The doctor could clearly see that I wasn’t in distress,” says Lynn. “I said, ‘No, no; that’s not me. I’m the one who needs Benadryl.”
The doctor asked if they could run a second EKG, and moments later, results confirmed that despite how Lynn looked, she clearly was in distress.
“The doctor came back in and said, ’It’s you; you are having a heart attack.’ I couldn’t believe it—I wasn’t having chest pains, pain in my arm—any of the symptoms I knew from being a nurse,” says Lynn.
Perfect timing helps Lynn beat the odds
The doctor asked Lynn if she had any family of history of heart attack. Lynn’s answer ratcheted the doctor’s response into overdrive.
“My sister and three cousins died in their 20s of sudden cardiac death,” says Lynn. “I knew there were heart issues in my family, but my cholesterol and blood pressure have always been in the healthy range, I work out consistently and I quit smoking years ago. My doctor has always told me I’m in great health.”
Before she knew it, Lynn was being rushed to the catheterization lab, where tests revealed an artery that was 100 percent blocked. Lynn underwent a procedure to place a stent to open the artery and allow blood flow.
“From the moment I walked in to get Benadryl, to having the stent placed, took 18 minutes,” says Lynn. “The national average from the first sign of distress is 90 minutes. God love the people at IU Health Methodist Hospital because I have no heart damage.”
Lynn says the “stars aligned” for her that day. “Had I still been on vacation or at home, I wouldn’t have recognized it. I would have taken medicine, gone to bed and probably never gotten up,” she says.
“I had a pretty easy heart attack, so much so, I didn’t even know I was having one. That’s what’s scary for women. We don’t have the big symptoms, like crushing chest pain.”
Though her symptoms hadn’t been the typical “big” signs of a heart attack, they’d been memorable enough that when they occurred again just two weeks later on her second day back to work, she knew not to ignore them.
“I started feeling exactly the same and called my cardiologist. He told me to get to the cath lab,” recalls Lynn.
This time the culprit was an 80 percent blockage in a main artery. Thanks to a second stent, daily medication, a Mediterranean diet and daily workouts, Lynn says she feels great. Given her family heart health history and her healthy lifestyle, Lynn and her doctors believe genetics are the cause of her heart issues. That led her to begin genetic testing, with her parents and children in line as well.
She says the heart attacks motivated her in other ways, too.
“I’m really focused on maintaining and creating great relationships,” says Lynn. “You figure out that relationships are your number one asset, the only thing that makes life meaningful.”
Their move got bumped up the priority list, too.
“Why put off what you could do today? Life’s too short now,” Lynn says. “I vowed I would live my life and seize every moment. I go to the beach constantly, spend time with family, have a lot of great seafood, swim and play outside a lot. I try to be as happy as I can every day. I have a very good life.”