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Heart Disease Grabbed Her by the Throat

Heart patient Teresa Hamilton

In February 2017, Teresa Hamilton, 58, first experienced the frightening symptom that would end up saving her life.

"It was a massive pain in my throat," she says. "Like someone putting their hands around my neck and squeezing hard."

Over the next few weeks and months, Teresa's perplexing throat episodes increased in frequency, intensity and duration. She also noticed a pattern to the pain. If she sat for a prolonged period, then walked a few steps, the tightness returned.

She didn't realize how sick she was. "I just kept doing the next thing that needed to get done."

Her to-do list was extensive. Teresa co-owns the heating and cooling business she and her husband, Bob, started 36 years ago. She also runs a charitable organization called Giving the Basics that provides soap, shampoo and other hygiene products to more than 220,000 area residents every month. Plus, she is the mother of 12 children, ages 14-35.

Too young for heart disease

Teresa suspected everything except heart disease. She started taking antacids in case her symptoms were caused by indigestion. She sought advice from her ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, family physician and gastroenterologist.

"I had every test under the sun," she says. "Blood pressure, CT scans, sonogram, endoscopy, MRI – and they all came back negative."

Fortunately, Teresa's gastroenterologist encouraged her to get a heart stress test. In June 2017, Teresa met with cardiologist Ashley Simmons, MD, medical director of the Adelaide C. Ward Women's Heart Health Center at The University of Kansas Health System.

"Teresa is physically fit, active, a real go-getter," Dr. Simmons says. "Heart disease was not on her radar."

Dr. Simmons discovered a few red flags in Teresa's medical records. Her bloodwork indicated she had 3 risk factors for heart disease. In addition, her family history suggested a genetic predisposition for heart disease. Her father died of a heart attack at age 50. She also lost a brother to heart disease when he was just 55.

Dr. Simmons worked hard to figure out this puzzle and she didn't stop searching until all the pieces were in place. I'm so thankful. – Teresa Hamilton

The right test and treatment

Dr. Simmons suggested a chemical stress test to evaluate Teresa's throat tightness. The test showed severely decreased blood flow to her heart. Just hours after her test, she was admitted for a heart catheterization.

Interventional cardiologist Peter M. Tadros, MD, performed Teresa's procedure and discovered severe coronary artery disease. Luckily, Dr. Tadros successfully opened her arteries with stents before the disease caused permanent damage. Had her condition gone undiagnosed, Teresa could have experienced a massive heart attack or arrhythmia.

A real threat for women

Like Teresa, many women don't think of themselves as being at risk for heart disease. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in America, claiming more lives than all cancers combined.

Research shows that women often experience different symptoms than men. That's why Teresa shares her story with family, friends and physicians. She wants everyone to know that unusual throat pressure and pain should be evaluated by a cardiologist.

Women's Heart Center check-in and waiting area.

Dedicated heart care for women

At the Adelaide C. Ward Women's Heart Health Center, our physicians specialize in women's heart health. The entire team is trained to recognize the unique and subtle signs of heart disease in female patients.

Learn about this unique service

Heart of the matter

"Dr. Simmons worked hard to figure out this puzzle and she didn't stop searching until all the pieces were in place," she says. "I'm so thankful."

Today, Teresa takes medication to maintain her heart health. She's also trying to bring more balance into her life by doing a little less than she used to.

"When you face the end, it gives you a different kind of freedom and courage. Life is a privilege and a gift. I feel blessed."

Woman smiling

How healthy is your heart?

The signs of heart disease are different between men and women, and some women have no symptoms at all. Find out if your heart is healthy by taking our online heart health assessment.

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