Back to Living Better

Healthy-looking 47-year-old learns she has significant heart disease

“Five months ago, I noticed some symptoms that were really bothersome to me and actually starting to affect my daily life,” says Kris Johnson, a patient at Piedmont Heart. “I’m a mom of two children, I’m 47 and I work full-time. I just thought I was a tired person and that’s as good as it gets.”

Her symptoms included:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Not feeling rested even after a full night’s sleep
  • Burning sensation in neck, jaw and arms
Johnson says she had these symptoms whether she was exerting herself or lying down. 

Cancer treatment and heart disease

When Johnson was 22 years old, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. Treatment required an intensive radiation and chemotherapy program.

“While it helped at that time, I was never aware that with that amount of radiation and potential scatter to the left side of my chest wall, that what they call ‘late effects’ of radiation could set me up for future heart disease at an earlier age.”

Johnson’s diagnosis

Together with her physicians, Johnson determined that her symptoms could be those of heart disease. She underwent a cardiac catheterization, which indicated she had two significant blockages in her arteries.

Her cardiologist and interventional cardiologist explained that she had significant coronary artery disease.

“Both of them were just shocked that I didn’t have a massive heart attack,” she says.   

Johnson said she never experienced chest pain or tightness, only a burning sensation in her neck, jaw and arms that always passed.

“I always liken this to ‘whispers,’” she explains. “These symptoms were like whispers and I knew something wasn’t right, but they passed – they didn’t stop me in my tracks like you think a heart attack would.”

Johnson urges all women – regardless of age – not to ignore their subtle symptoms. 

“Women present so very differently and I’m here to say that it’s not about age,” she says. “Just listen to your body. You know your body better than anybody. You have to be your own best advocate. When your daily life is a little bit off, that’s when it’s time to take action.”

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Click here to learn more about Piedmont’s Women’s Heart Screening program and share this information with the women in your life. 

Related Stories