Nancy Holland of Leawood is what most people would consider the picture of health.
The 45-year-old wife and mother of two isn’t overweight, stays fit with exercise and has never smoked. But none of that mattered on Jan. 17 when Holland collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest while eating at Carma restaurant in Leawood.
Holland wasn’t feeling any discomfort when she got up from the table she shared with her husband and friends to use the restroom. When another restaurant patron entered the restroom a short time later, she found Holland unconscious on the floor and bleeding from where she had injured her face in the fall.
After that woman alerted restaurant staff, 25-year-old manager Richmond Carson began administering CPR. A female police officer soon came in with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, and together they along with another restaurant employee worked to get Holland’s heart beating again. An ambulance then took Holland to Menorah Medical Center, where she spent the next 10 days.
“When I woke up in the ICU and I saw the dry erase board with all of the doctors’ and nurses’ names that were treating me written on it, my husband told me I had suffered a heart attack,” said Holland. “I thought it was a joke. I had just had blood drawn a few weeks earlier at a doctor’s appointment and everything was within normal range.”
Holland’s story is an important reminder that heart attacks can strike anyone at any time. February is Heart Disease Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to remember that heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women.
Because Holland had no known risk factors, doctors think her sudden cardiac arrest may have resulted from a blood clot. Ujjaval Patel, an interventional cardiologist, treated Holland at Menorah Medical Center. He said fast action by Carson in beginning CPR made the difference between life and death.
“If he didn’t do what he did, we wouldn’t be talking today,” said Patel. “If it had been two minutes later, you might have had a different outcome.”
Carson credits his mother with encouraging him to learn the life-saving procedure.
“My mother coerced me into doing it,” said Carson. “And I was a little leery because the training cost time and money. But because she works in the medical field she knows the importance of it.”
Having gone through this experience, Carson is now an advocate for learning CPR. He believes everyone should be ready in case the unthinkable happens, as it did for him that night at the restaurant.
“This can happen at any age and you should be prepared no matter who you are with,” said Carson. “Just be ready. You think of heart disease happening to the elderly but you don’t think about it happening to your average-age lady out to dinner.”
When it comes to keeping one step ahead of heart disease, Patel recommends asking yourself an important question.
“Do you know your numbers?” asks Patel. “Do you know your HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and your blood pressure? These numbers are available from your doctor.”
Ashley Simmons, a cardiologist at the University of Kansas Hospital, encourages people to be vigilant when it comes to symptoms of heart disease.
“Pay close attention to your symptoms,” said Simmons. “A lot of people brush things like shortness of breath and chest pain aside.”
She also said it’s important to make regular health screenings a priority, something she said can be particularly easy for women to overlook.
“Women in general need to be reminded to take care of themselves,” said Simmons. “We are always taking care of others.”
As for Holland, she is now well on the road to recovery. She said she feels incredibly lucky to have received such wonderful care both at the restaurant and in the hospital. Now, she hopes her story can help other women focus on the importance of maintaining their heart health now before it becomes a serious problem later.
“I encourage women to talk to their doctor,” said Holland. “Most women when they start feeling bad don’t run to the doctor and they can end up being diagnosed when it’s too late.”