Knowledge is power: Survivors of heart emergencies share their stories

Survivors of cardiac emergencies tell their stories

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On this national Wear Red Day, we’re sharing the stories of some brave women who have experienced their own cardiac emergencies.

It’s as scary as it sounds: a medical emergency on an airplane, and not a lot of warning signs. Mary Caniglia’s story is just one of many.

“In the airport I just didn’t feel like myself — I was nauseous, I was feeling sweaty,” recalls Caniglia — First Alert meteorologist Rich Caniglia’s mom — who experienced a heart attack on a plane in 2005.

It may have happened nearly 20 years ago, but Mary Caniglia remembers the small details on a flight from Los Angeles.

“I went into the ladies’ bathroom to take off my sweater or top; that’s when i got terrible chest pain down my arms, and radiating down into my chest,” she said.

She collapsed, as a flight attendant called for a daughter. Fortunately, a medical professional was on board, informing the pilot they needed to land.

“Fortunately the flight attendant, the pilot know where to go; we landed in Omaha, Nebraska,” she recalled.

That landing saved her life. She stayed in the hospital for about a month and had quadruple bypass surery.

Her story is one of many.

Toni Comstock of Farmington experienced sudden cardiac arrest a few years ago, at 39 years old. She was working her job at a credit union.

“Came back from lunch and I was putting on a home equity application and I went down,” Comstock said.

Thankfully, a nurse was there and started performing CPR. Now she lives with an internal defibrillator.

“Never had any health issues my whole life; I’ve always been super healthy,” Comstock said. “There was no warning signs, they’ve done so many tests after the fact and haven’t really found a reason as to why it happened.”

For Caniglia, doctors said family history played a large role in risk. She also had to quit smoking.

“Know your history if possible, go to the cardiologist, quit smoking, and try to eat a better diet and exercise more,” Caniglia said.

The lesson here? Knowledge is power.

“Pushing for people to learn CPR because it is so very important,” Comstock said.

Cardiologists say men and women present symptoms differently. With men, we tend to think of that crushing chest pain, but women don’t always have that. They may feel things like chest heaviness, shortness of breath, or nausea.

If you’re concerned, start by talking to your primary care doctor.