Heart Disease in Women – A Heart Attack Survivor’s Story

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Emily Holcraft was misdiagnosed while suffering from a heart attack. Read about her experience, and her strength to question and to persevere.

My name is Emily Holcraft and I would like to share my heart attack survivor story.  I am 46 years old, a mother of 4 children and have been married for 23 amazing years.  I have always maintained a healthy diet, am a triathlete and have no family history of heart disease.  As I was training for my first triathlon I began feeling extremely fatigued.  Thinking it was due to my training I decided to rest a day.  I then began to experience pain to my left arm.  I dismissed it as possibly having pulled my bicep muscle.  But, it didn’t go away.  I also began feeling very short of breath but felt it was related to an asthma flare up.  I didn’t feel sick at all, just exhausted and frustrated.  I kept trying to train but scaled my workouts way back. Over the course of 3 days it came to a point where I could barely swim 1 length of the pool. That morning it took everything I had to get myself OUT of the pool.  Somehow I showered and managed to get to work.  My co-worker took one look at me and knew something wasn’t right.  I proceeded to tell her what had transpired over the last 3 days.  She immediately asked me if I had a heart history.  I said no, forgetting that I had a PFO closure in 2008 after having experienced a stroke.  However, I didn’t feel that was relevant.  She checked my blood pressure which measured 128/80.  That was a high reading considering that I usually run 90/50.  She insisted that I go to the ER.  The pain in my arm was relentless and I was beginning to experience jaw pain. I, the stubborn person that I am, decided to drive myself to the hospital.  I was examined at the ER.  My EKG was normal and they dismissed my symptoms with a diagnosis of having a “panic attack.”  My biggest concern at that time was my arm.  The pain was ridiculous. Despite my persistence in asking for an ultrasound of my arm to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot, they sent me home with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.  4 hours later I collapsed on my living room floor.  I was ambulanced back to the ER.  Blood cultures were drawn which revealed I had had a heart attack.  I was immediately taken in for a cardiac catheterization which showed 4 blockages 2 of which were greater than 90%.  While the doctor was trying to place the stents the guide wire dissected my left main artery which led to emergency open heart surgery for a quadruple bypass. That was obviously not a normal occurrence.  I woke up 2 days later in Cardiac ICU not even knowing that I had surgery let alone OPEN HEART surgery.  I remember asking my surgeon as he stood at the end of my bed, “does this mean I can’t do my triathlon next month?”  Can you imagine?!  I actually asked him that!  Obviously he kindly remarked, “Not this year honey.”  I was 41 at the time.  After several months of Cardiac Rehab and numerous setbacks I finally regained my pre-heart attack fitness.  And I am happy to say that I crossed that finish line I had intended to cross 2 years prior.  I have since done 11 triathlons and a Century bike ride (100miles!).  I am on several heart medications but am happy to say that I am alive and doing very well!  I keep up with my Cardiology appointments and have learned to listen carefully when my body is trying to tell me something. So far so good!  A takeaway for your readers?  It can happen to anyone!  Again, I was 41 years old, excellent diet, an athlete with no family history of heart disease.  Silent killer?  I would say yes. 

 Emily M. Holcroft RN, BSN


Heart attack symptoms in women are often different from those in men.  Following are some of the heart attack symptoms for women:

  • Neck, jaw, shoulder, upper back or abdominal discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Unusual fatigue

To reduce your chances of getting heart disease it’s important to:

  • Quit or don’t start smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight and obese raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, and lean meats. Avoid saturated or trans-fat, added sugars, and high amounts of salt.
  • Know your blood pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can result in heart disease. High blood pressure has no symptoms so it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you should be tested for diabetes. Diabetes raises your chances of heart disease.
  • Have your healthcare provider check your cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Limit alcohol intake to one drink a day.
  • Lower your stress level and find healthy ways to cope with stress.




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:                                                                                                                   https://www.cdc.gov/features/wearred/index.html

Mayo Clinic:                                                                                                                                                                                              https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-disease/art-20046167

Related Articles

10 (Unexpected!) Tips for a Happy and Healthy New Year

It’s that time of year—when everyone starts talking about their new year’s resolutions and how “Next year ... Read more

HDL Cholesterol: Good or Bad?

For many years, it has been commonly believed that the higher your HDL cholesterol is, the better. ... Read more