Kristi Cervantez was in the best shape of her life.
She was in her mid-40s and feeling great. She’d been eating right and getting plenty of exercise. In fact, she’d lost 20 pounds as she was training for a half-marathon.
On Easter Sunday at her home in Solon, Iowa, Kristi sat down to do some paperwork. Soon however, she felt a searing pain in her chest and left arm and a tingling feeling in her legs.
Kristi thought perhaps the pain was an allergic reaction to a prescription medication she’d recently begun taking after seeing her doctor for joint pain.
But when Kristi began sweating profusely and hyperventilating, her husband called 911.
“Of course, I was thinking this can’t possibly be,” Kristi says. “I’m in great shape. I’m too young.”
Even in the ambulance on the way to University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Kristi was dismissive of her symptoms, reminding herself that she’d never been healthier. She remembers feeling slightly embarrassed at the sound of the ambulance siren.
Then Kristi lost consciousness.
“I was thinking, I’ll take a nap,” she says. “The next thing I knew, they were in my face and yelling, ‘Kristi, tell me your name!’”
Kristi would later learn that she’d experienced an abnormal, potentially fatal, heart rhythm in the ambulance. The emergency medical team revived her en route to the hospital.
When Kristi woke up two-and-a-half hours later, doctors told her it was a heart attack. Moreover, she had undergone a heart procedure and received two stents to help restore blood flow to her heart. Kristi’s doctors believe she had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection—a tear in a coronary artery, one of the main blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This tear in the artery forms a “flap” that blocks blood flow. It’s not clear what causes coronary artery dissection—it’s a rare, sometimes fatal, condition that occurs most often in young, athletic females.
Following the procedure, Kristi’s family and friends offered their support and assistance. Kristi’s parents stayed for a couple of weeks, and her sister completed the half-marathon they’d been planning to run together.
“She called me on her cell phone and we were ‘together’ as she crossed the finish line,” Kristi says.
Today, Kristi takes daily medications to help prevent future heart problems, and she hasn’t let her heart condition hold her back. Kristi may never get to run a half-marathon, but she’s jogging again, and she continues to set a good example for her husband and two teenage daughters by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Kristi’s story is a clear reminder that a heart attack can affect anyone at any time. Fortunately, she didn’t hesitate when her symptoms began. Calling 911—rather than having her husband drive her to the hospital—likely saved her life.
“I still can hardly believe it happened. I am just thankful to be alive,” Kristi says. “I want all women to be aware that if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”
University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center is the proud Eastern Iowa sponsor of the American Heart Association.