Peg Collins was watching TV on the couch with her husband one Saturday night when she suddenly slumped unconscious beside him. Two weeks before, they had been hiking and camping in the Grand Tetons. They walked together every night after dinner, and Peg walked to her job at Washington State University. In short, the 60-year-old Pullman resident considered herself active and in good health: she ate well, exercised regularly, had low cholesterol with a good “bad to good cholesterol” ratio, and had never smoked. Though her father and brother had died of heart attacks in their fifties and her two older sisters have heart problems, Peg had been given “a clean bill of health” for her heart 10 years before and had always considered herself low risk.
On Tuesday, four days before losing consciousness on the couch, Peg had back pain and fatigue while walking on campus, which she attributed to the hot weather. She experienced similar symptoms along with chest tightness while walking the next night, symptoms which went away when she stopped walking. On Thursday night she felt too tired to walk. She called her doctor’s office Friday morning and was able to schedule an appointment for the following week. On Saturday night, however, she had the heart attack.
One of the most valuable lessons Peg offers from her experience is that if something doesn’t feel right and you can’t get in to see your regular doctor, “go to the E.R. and do not wait.” (Pullman ReadyCare, housed in the hospital, can be another possible option.)
The other potentially life-saving lesson Peg learned is something many people don’t realize, that heart attack symptoms in women tend to be more subtle, more diffuse, and to manifest differently than traditionally publicized heart attack warnings—chest pain and radiating pain in the left arm—which are the symptoms typically experienced by men.
A few key elements worked in Peg’s favor and enabled her to survive, the most crucial being that her husband, Steve Mulgrew, was right there at the time. “If I’d been taking a shower, reading in the bedroom, cleaning the kitchen... I could’ve come back and found her dead,” Steve says. “My being right next to her when it happened and the paramedics only being 10 blocks away is probably what really saved her life, and prevented any real serious issues that can happen from the lack of blood to the brain.”
Finding that Peg had no pulse, Steve called 911 and a team of four paramedics arrived “in less than two minutes.” They used a defibrillator to get Peg’s heart started, gave her medication, and used the defibrillator a second time to stabilize her heart rate.
Steve followed the ambulance to the emergency room at Pullman Regional Hospital and answered questions about Peg’s medical history. The medical team gave Peg I.V.s, intubated and sedated her, and arranged for her to be seen by a cardiologist at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. The PRH team then administered x-rays and an ultrasound prior to sending her in the Life Flight helicopter. By the time Steve arrived at Sacred Heart in his car, the cardiologist had surgically inserted a stent into Peg’s artery, and Peg was already settled into a room.
Steve describes everyone involved as “very professional and polite” and says that everything that happened was “life saving, every step of the way.”
While Peg has no memory of anything that happened until the following day at Sacred Heart, she recounts, “The paramedics were there quickly, the E.R. handled me correctly, knew what to do, contacted Spokane, got me on the helicopter, and Spokane had me ready in the cardiac lab immediately with the surgeon there, so everything worked out. Everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do to save my life, or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Shortly after returning home to Pullman, Peg began treatment in the PRH cardiac rehab program. She says, “It feels safe because when you’re there in the hospital, you’re constantly being monitored with the heart monitor. They’re taking your blood pressure and making sure you’re not overdoing it.” She appreciates that there’s always a doctor on duty and that a doctor comes in to meet with patients in the rehab once a week, which she sees as good follow-up and “an extra chance to ask questions.”
A month into rehab, she finds that the nine-month program has “already helped tremendously,” and says she is already walking a mile and a half after dinner with Steve. “It’s a really good facility right here in the community,” she adds. “You don’t have to drive to Spokane for this.” She hopes the hospital can get more funding for this program so that the rehab will have the capacity to treat more people.
Steve notes that while the rehab is benefiting Peg physically, “it’s also benefiting her confidence. They give you the encouragement that you can do this.”
by Judy Sobeloff