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Why a widowmaker heart attack is so dangerous

Matt Easley’s heart attack story began with a headache. The 40-year-old father of two woke up early one morning with severe pain. Easley took some over-the-counter pain medication, and then went back to bed, thinking the pain would go away. Later that morning, the headache was still there.

“I also had a little pull in in my shoulder that I thought was just a pulled muscle from moving something or doing something in the house,” he says.

He made an appointment with his primary care physician, who gave him a shot and some medication.

“He said, ‘The headache will go away in three to four days – don’t worry about it,’” says Easley.

His wife Nikki remembers that Easley complained of what they thought was a pulled muscle and headache for several days. As the pain worsened each day, Nikki became disgruntled.

“I [couldn’t] believe all of this fuss over a pulled muscle,” she says.

Learn more about heart attack symptoms.

A “massive rush” at the hospital

Nikki reluctantly drove him to the emergency department at Piedmont Fayette.

“They did an EKG on me and went into a massive rush to get me into the next room, then all the chaos started,” remembers Easley.    

The staff called a “Code Blue,” which indicates the patient requires immediate medical attention.

“They had us racing down the hallway, which I thought was a little odd,” says Nikki. “Afterward, they said, ‘We’re going to take him into the cath lab and we’ll follow up with you in a few minutes.’ And it was just a few minutes.’”

Easley recalls Piedmont’s STEMI team rushing to save his life.

“I had such extreme pain in my shoulder and could hear the doctor in there saying, ‘This is a widowmaker – we have to get this fixed right away,’” he remembers.

A “widowmaker” heart attack

Easley had a 100 percent blockage in his main coronary artery, which his cardiologist immediately opened up with a stent. This type of blockage is known as a "widowmaker" or a STEMI (ST segment elevation myocardial infarction).

“They went in and in a matter of 10 to 15 seconds, the pain was gone – just erased,” he says.

The team went to the waiting room, where they informed Nikki they were able to save her husband.

“They said I would have died in my sleep that night if I hadn’t come in, just in that amount of time,” says Easley.

“It was a very startling experience because the symptoms were so mundane and easily overlooked,” says Nikki. “Only two percent of patients generally make it, but we were so blessed and so lucky.”

Heart attack warning signs

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans.

Don’t be misled by the name “widowmaker” – heart attacks affect women, too. Just like Matt Easley did, many people – especially women – mistake their heart attack for something less serious. Learn more about heart attack warning signs in women

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