• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Cardiology nurse and heart attack survivor says, ‘Listen to your body’

October 1, 2017

cardiology nurse and heart attack survivor Kristin O'Meara with her family
After surviving a heart attack of her own, cardiology nurse Kristin O'Meara has a clear and important message for women: "Listen to your body."

Kristin O'Meara's story, she says, is one of denial.

It began with searing chest pain, a serious symptom Kristin understands well from three decades as a cardiology nurse at Mayo Clinic. But when that pain was in her own chest, Kristin had a hard time recognizing it for what it was.

"The brain works in funny ways," she says. "I was in good shape. My numbers were all good. I told myself there is no possible way this could be a heart attack."

A visit to the doctor proved her wrong. Despite the fact that she was active and fit, doctors at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campusdiscovered Kristin was having a heart attack that day as a result of a condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. Before she could get to the diagnosis, Kristin had to overcome her impulse to dismiss her symptoms as something minor. 

Discounting tell-tale signs

On Jan. 5, 2017, Kristin's day started, as had so many before it, with a trip to the gym.

She began running about 20 years ago, and has completed countless half marathons and a few marathons in the years since.

"I've always enjoyed exercise," Kristin says. "It's become a passion of mine."

The activity has also helped Kristin maintain her weight, and keep her cholesterol and blood pressure in check. So when she experienced a sharp pain in her chest while warming up on an elliptical machine, she attributed the feeling to something other than heart trouble.

"My first thought was that it was just one of the aches and pains of aging," Kristin, now 57, says.

She moved to the fitness center's track and began running. After about 40 minutes, Kristin started to feel pressure in her sternum. Then the pain moved to her shoulder and back. Read the rest of Kristin's story.

This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.