Kathie’s Story: How I Survived a ‘Widow Maker’ Heart Attack

February 5th, 2021

For 15 years, Kathie Romano educated women about their unique symptoms and risk for heart attack through the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” Program. She never imagined she’d need heart care herself.

But one week before Halloween last October, Romano felt an anxiety attack coming on. “I was edgy, feeling like I was jumping out of my skin” says the 63-year-old Perkasie woman. She calmed herself down and assumed the feeling would pass, which it did.

Yet the next morning, she felt pain in her left arm. “As it progressed from my waist up, the aching and pounding and pain became terrible,” she says. “It felt like someone was sitting on my chest.”

When she arrived at Grand View Health’s Emergency Department at 2:25 p.m. that day, she learned she was having a massive heart attack, a blockage of the left anterior descending artery (LAD). It’s the type of heart attack doctors call a “widow maker” because of its higher rate for mortality. Her ejection fraction, a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it squeezes, was 25%, well below the 55% considered normal.

Fifteen minutes after her arrival, Romano was brought to Grand View Health’s David M. Flowers, MD, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. Interventional cardiologist J. Patrick Kleaveland, MD, with Lehigh Valley Heart Specialists, inserted a balloon pump and two stents to keep her LAD open. Afterward, she was transferred by ambulance to Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) for additional treatment and follow-up care.

Joanne Engle, a registered nurse in the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, talked her through the entire experience. “She stayed with me all the way to LVHN,” Romano says. “Seeing her gave me relief and comfort.”

Romano received hospital care at LVHN for one week before returning home. The heart attack left her with heart failure and cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes it difficult for the heart muscle to pump blood throughout the rest of your body. She receives follow-up care and treatment from cardiologist J. Doyle Walton, MD, with Grand View Health Cardiology Alderfer and Travis.

“He’s excellent,” Romano says of Dr. Walton. “He’s very educational, informative and professional. He tells it to you straight, which I appreciate.”

The health scare hit especially close to home for Romano, whose husband, Ted, had died three years earlier from a massive heart attack. “I was his caregiver for 10 years,” says Romano, a license practical nurse. “His heart problems came from a genetic condition; I had no family history.”

Three months after her heart attack, Romano is starting to resume normal activity. She’s back to work, takes walks at lunch and enjoys a favorite pastime—refinishing furniture using chalk paint. She’s spending time with her two daughters and four grandchildren. And she’s volunteering on the Passion Committee for this year’s Go Red for Women events in the Philadelphia region.

“Volunteering this year means more than ever,” she says. “My heart attack was the scariest experience of my life, and I’m alive today thanks to the team at Grand View Health.”

Kathie will share her story on Perkasie Live at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 5. Watch it on Facebook Live.

Learn more about heart care at Grand View Health.