The Playcrafters’ production of “Treasure Island” ended that November night, so three members of the Weigandt family who were in the show attended a cast party.
Jaci Weigandt, 49, had a small part in the play — “not stressful,” she said — but she was happy to be in the production with her husband and son. It was just after she reached the party in Davenport that Weigandt sensed something was wrong with her heart.
“I didn’t feel right. I had heaviness in my chest and my arms felt funny. I wasn’t dizzy, nauseated or short of breath, but I did feel a little clammy, like when you get embarrassed,” she explained.
She tried to figure out what was wrong: Something she’d eaten? Not enough sleep? After about 20 minutes, she contacted her husband and the two decided to get it checked out.
They collected their son and headed back to their Moline home, but she felt even worse during the ride, so the family went immediately to the emergency room at Trinity Moline, where she was hooked up to monitors.
Weigandt “coded,” meaning her heartbeat was so low that emergency workers used an external defibrillator to get her heart beating normally again. “I had to be shocked back into rhythm,” she said.
It turned out that Weigandt had suffered a heart spasm rather than a full-fledged heart attack, said her cardiologist, Dr. Aswartha Pothula, who is with Cardiovascular Medicine, P.C., Moline. She underwent a procedure and had a stent installed.
A heart spasm is a brief, temporary tightening of the blood muscles in the artery wall of the heart, according to the website www.mayoclinic.com. It can lead to a heart attack if left untreated.
Weigandt, a mother of three, was aware of her heart health. She has high blood pressure and a high cholesterol level, but she was controlling them at the time through medication. She’d had a checkup only three days before the incident and all of her tests showed good results.
So she was quite surprised at the pain. She’s of an average weight and felt like her health was under control.
“When I coded, it all went black, like what happens when you pass out. But I came right back. They stabilized me and sent me to the cath (cardiac catheterization) lab at Trinity Rock Island,” she said.
Not too unusual
Heart spasms are more common in women than men, said Pothula, the cardiologist. Patients also tend to be younger in age. Both genetic and environmental factors play a role. A heart spasm can relate to a woman’s hormone levels, and it is often caused by plaque buildup in the arteries.
Weigandt is relatively young, but the heart specialist said he sees even younger people these days: One of his patients is 23 years old.
“They have more knowledge about heart health. … They have heart history in their family, for example, so they come to a specialist sooner,” he said.
Weigandt is now in rehabilitation, exercising regularly to restore her heart health. She is basically back to her former energy level, she said, but still gets tired at times.
Cardiac rehabilitation is typically for patients who have had a heart attack or surgery. There are two types who show up for the services, said Karen Doy, supervisor of cardiac rehabilitation for Genesis Medical Center in Davenport.
About half of the patients are shell-shocked and afraid to do anything that might cause another heart attack. The other half want to get back quickly to their previous lifestyle, she said.
It’s a balancing act to treat each patient, and it’s a very individualized process. “Each day can be a different experience for the patient,” she said.
Rehabilitation is a positive for patients who were not active before their health event, she said. Regular exercise is beneficial both physically and psychologically.
Weigandt now uses a treadmill four to five times a week as part of her rehabilitation, and she also lifts weights. “The best part of my rehabilitation is that I am monitored,” she said.
She is concerned about other women who may try to explain away their heart symptoms.
“The feeling that I had … it was nothing like I’d ever had before. It didn’t feel right and it didn’t go away. But you’ve got to get these things checked out,” she said.