“Don’t ignore heart symptoms – they could kill you.”
For nearly a year, Suzy Serra sensed something wasn’t right; she just didn’t feel normal. By the time she finally realized it might be something serious, she almost lost her life at the age of 55.
“It was easy to mistake the symptoms for something less serious,” Serra admits. “I was tired all the time, but I blamed that on being on my feet for eight hours a day at work. And, I had frequent heartburn – or what I thought was heartburn.”
That discomfort turned out to be a 99 percent blockage in her left coronary artery. Today, she has recovered from heart procedures that saved her life and marvels – along with her doctors – that she no longer has any symptoms of congestive heart failure discovered during that process.
Serra now knows she was experiencing classic symptoms of heart disease in women, the sensations of heartburn and chronic fatigue.
“I was no stranger to heart disease, as I watched it follow my father throughout his life beginning when he had a triple heart bypass at the age of 39.”
Soon after that, Serra’s family moved to Calaveras County from Phoenix, Ariz. She now lives in San Andreas with her son Sam, 25.
Looking back, Serra understands how her heart emergency built up over time.
“I knew my health had suffered some as I had been struggling with diabetes for the last 10 years,” she said. “And even though I had a family history of heart disease, I had no idea I was developing cardiovascular disease.”
At the time, Serra worked in the kitchen at Mark Twain Medical Center.
“My job had become very physically challenging,” she noted. “I’d come home from work exhausted and just rest up for the next day. But it kept taking longer and longer to bounce back and I was tired all the time.”
In January 2017, Serra’s sister Julie drove from Los Osos to visit and they went to stay at the home of their late parents in Rail Road Flat. During the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2017, Serra kept waking up with a sensation of drowning, unable to catch her breath.
“When I got up from bed, I just did not feel right. I didn’t feel any pain, I just felt really weak and more tired than ever before. I told my sister we needed to go to the hospital. Once we were in the car, I felt a jolt in my chest – I had to finally admit to myself that something was wrong with my heart.”
“In San Andreas, I only live a few minutes away from Mark Twain Medical Center, but there we were, 40-minutes away in Rail Road Flat and I was having a heart attack. I would learn later that I had waited until what is called the ’90-minute window.’ Folks waiting longer than that to get emergency treatment are unlikely to survive.”
Doctors and staff in the emergency room determined Serra was experiencing angina, a heart attack caused by a lack of blood flow in the heart. They reacted as they do in any such heart emergency, by stabilizing the patient and lining up transfer to the nearest cardiac specialty center.
“I was surrounded by the amazing emergency team,” Serra said. “They sensed I was scared and kept talking with me to keep me as calm as possible. I was sent to Doctors Hospital in Modesto and was rushed immediately from the ambulance into surgery. By the time my sister arrived at the hospital, I was already out of surgery and in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.”
Doctors inserted a stent to open the 99 percent blockage in Serra’s left coronary artery. A similar procedure followed days later to clear an 85 percent to 90 percent blockage in her right coronary artery. Serra’s health care team found progression of congestive heart failure at the level of 25 percent.
Her recovery has been slow and steady over the past year. As she regained strength, the progression of congestive heart failure began to reverse.
“I’m told that is very unusual,” she said. “My doctors were surprised.”
After about five months, Serra showed no signs of congestive heart failure.
“My story has a happy ending due to the compassionate, prompt care and decisions made by the MTMC Emergency Department staff and doctors.”
“My recovery is like a miracle,” she added. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to give back by helping others become more aware about heart disease. Learn the symptoms and do not ignore them.”