The condition mostly affects women under 50 and patients usually exhibit no obvious risk factors, according to the Mayo Clinic online.
A week before, Doucette had received a clean bill of health during her annual physical. Only the unexpected death of her father at age 54 from a heart attack in his sleep stood out to the ER doctors.
“They kept going back to anxiety,” said Doucette, who has learned anxiety attacks are often blamed for heart attack symptoms in women. “They said that with three kids I had a lot of stress in my life, but I knew that wasn’t it. My biggest mistake at that point was not advocating for my health, demanding that I get a catheterization.”
In order to undergo the procedure that diagnoses heart conditions, Doucette would have to be transferred to a Boston hospital. But the snowstorm was picking up and MedFlight had stopped running.
Twelve hours after she arrived at the ER, Doucette saw a cardiologist for the first time. An echocardiogram showed the front wall of her heart was not moving. She was now so unstable that doctors debated whether she could be transferred at all. Finally, an ambulance took her on snowy highways to a Boston hospital where she immediately had an emergency catheterization.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “I could tell something was very wrong by the way people acted around me.”
At 11:45 p.m., a cardiac surgeon and the catheterization lab doctor approached Mike Doucette in the waiting room. His wife needed open heart surgery.
“I couldn’t believe it; they were telling me that she might die,” he said, his voice thickening with emotion. “I broke down. I remember pleading with them, I can’t lose her to a heart attack.”
Doucette watched staff scrambling to get his wife ready for surgery. He recalled the anesthesiologist screaming at him to sign the consent form.