My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

I promised to share the story of what I went through in the hospital after the widowmaker heart attack I experienced on July 24th. So, for those of you who might want to know what to expect with the related open heart surgery and stuff, here is my story.

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

X marks the spot? I later learned this was where my pulse was marked during surgery.

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

On July 23rd, I called 911 because I was experiencing symptoms of what I thought were panic attacks. You can read about my symptoms here. It turns out that I called just in time because everything got a little hazy for me after the fire department and paramedics arrived.

The first on the scene was a very sweet lady from the fire department. I really wish that I could remember the name of everyone who helped me so that I could thank them properly, but sadly I cannot. But I remember that she was asking me about my symptoms. I was pretty upset and she was very comforting.

Then two paramedics arrived. It turns out that one of the men was a national EMS winner and I was very fortunate to have someone with that level of expertise on the scene because my condition was far more serious than I realized. One of the medics told me that he did not think I was having panic attacks and then administering what I think was an EKG on me. Then I was put into a chair that they could get me down the steps in [I live in a split foyer]. I offered to walk but they said no. Then they put me on a stretcher in my yard and that’s pretty much the last thing I can recall for a few minutes.

I remember kind of hearing people say stuff [mostly how I was “diaphretic” and in “V-tach”] but I didn’t quite feel like I was in my body – kind of like how you feel when you’re just waking up. Then I experienced what I can only imagine a firework exploding in my chest might feel like. I thought to myself that I must have had a heart attack. I could hear myself scream but it didn’t really seem like it was me. Then it was over. I was alert and people were asking me what my name was and I was in the back of the ambulance. I was then transported to Northern Hospital.

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

After I arrived, I don’t remember much else at Northern Hospital until I hear someone ask if they could shock me. I felt myself say yes but it didn’t really register and then I experienced the shock. I screamed but I don’t recall how bad it actually hurt or that feeling of screaming. Then I remember being in a room that had a very odd light. It looked like heaven. I remember thinking to myself how ironic it was and wondering how many people saw that and thought they were “going towards the light.” I was lucid enough then that I snapped a pic with my cell phone because I just thought that was great!

Then someone came in my room, explained to me that I had been shocked twice because I was in a dangerous heart rhythm called V-tach, once in my yard and then at the hospital, and that I was experiencing heart failure, something they were not equipped to deal with. They explained to me that I would need to go to a different hospital for that. So, I was put back in an ambulance and sent to Wake Forest Baptist Health.

After I got to Baptist, they ran a series of tests on me. I will try to list them in order. I think the first was another EKG. I ended up having several of these. Then I remember having at least 1 or 2 chest xrays. Then there were 3 doctors [I think they were all cardiologists] in the room while they took turns doing an ultrasound on my chest]. This was minorly uncomfortable, but not painful at all. They kind of stick the ultrasound wand under your ribs so you feel a bit pressure. They were all discussing the views they needed and how young I was. They all seemed very serious about figuring out why this happened to someone so young.

Never did anyone talk to me like a child or fill me with false hope. Everyone talked to me in terms of, “we will do everything we can,” and “we are sorry this happened.” I appreciated that. I always value the truth more than anything. And I was asked repeatedly if I smoked. I do not. And each time they seemed surprised by my answer as this is apparently what happens to smokers. So, if you smoke, you might want to reconsider.

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

Then they did a CT Scan of my heart. This is where things started going badly for me again. I couldn’t breathe when laying on my back and I started coughing uncontrollably. You have to hold still for this testing and I did the best that I could. It turns out I had fluid in my lungs or something due to the heart failure so they put me on a BiPap machine to help me breathe. I remained on this machine until surgery. And then I was on oxygen for the majority of the rest of my hospital stay.

Most of Monday was spent running tests and trying to stabilize me.

On Tuesday morning they inserted a heart catheter into my wrist. They numbed my wrist first and it did not hurt. However, I could feel it run though my arm and it felt odd. I remember the doctors talking over me as they did this but I really had no idea what they were talking about. Then they told me that it was bad news and that they would have to go in through my groin to insert an Intra-Aortic Balloon Pump to help my heart pump more efficiently. I don’t recall feeling that at all until the balloon was in my heart. Then I could feel it “beating.” It didn’t hurt, it just sort pf was something I could hear going on inside my body. It went on for what seemed like hours and I remembered thinking to myself that it was like hearing a faucet drip and wondering if it would make me go crazy after a while.

I was then told that I would need open heart surgery and that, ideally, since I had been given blood thinners to do the heart catheterization, they would wait several days to do it. However, mine was an emergency situation and they would be doing it immediately. My LAD was 95% blocked [widowmaker heart attack] and I ended up having a CABG procedure because of this. So yes, they cracked my chest. No, it doesn’t really look like I will have that gnarly of a scar. But I do have my chest wired up with stainless steel, kind of like Tony Stark’s metal laden chest. I feel that makes me an honorary Avenger. So there’s that. 😉

Before the surgery, I was asked if I wanted a tracheostomy if necessary and I declined. They seemed shocked by this but I was and still am okay with my decision. There’s no guarantee they can ever take you back off of it and I simply don’t want to live like that. If it’s my time to go, then it’s my time to go.

I woke up about 1am with the breathing tube still down my throat. And I won’t lie, having it removed is no fun. But, honestly, I only experienced what I would consider unmanageable pain a couple nights. But I was lucky to receive lots of pain meds and now, 2.5 weeks after the surgery, I am really only taking the occasional Ibuprofen.

My Experience With Open Heart Surgery And Other Procedures After My Widowmaker Heart Attack

My leg 2 weeks after surgery. An artery was removed from my leg to use in my heart bypass.

I spent a week in the hospital, in total, and I also had to get a blood transfusion a day or so after surgery. I remembered feeling so grateful in those days. I wasn’t scared. So many people took great care of me. Again, I wish I could remember everyone’s names but I just can’t. I do remember a few though and I would like to share those here. I definitely don’t know job titles, so I will just put where I met these people}.

Jill and Amanda {Surry Co EMS} – Both of these women were so sweet and comforting and both were married to guys I graduated high school with. Small world, huh?

Zach {ICU Baptist} – This man was very caring and spent tons of times feeding me ice cubes after my surgery. My throat really hurt and he didn’t have to do all that. But he did. And I am so grateful for it. I would learn in the coming days that nothing tastes as good or feels as soothing on your throat after breathing tube removal as ice cubes and popsicles.

Cynthia {Baptist} – This nurse was so funny. I will never forget the story that she told me about the man with the Heparin shot. Man, those shots are painful but Cynthia made me laugh, many times, and we all need that.

Kathleen {Baptist} – I loved the way she talked to me. She was compassionate but she kept it real. And I loved her camping stories.

Then there was a nurse from New Zealand and another nurse who was blonde that I loved in the ICU but I am just so bad with names and I am unable to figure out how to get them.

And finally, Dr Lata. He is the person who did my surgery and saved my life. I will forever be grateful.

Thanks to all my friends and family who stopped by the hospital and my home after the surgery or otherwise sent well wishes. I love you all. <3

About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn is a full time travel and lifestyle blogger. Besides Cheap Is The New Classy, she also owns and writes for, an entertainment site. Her interests include traveling, home decor, DIY projects, organizing her home and enjoying a nice cup of coffee {or two}. She currently resides in North Carolina with her dog, Daisy.


  1. Kim Brooks says:

    wow im sorry you went through that but i am very happy that you are alive and here with us. I have been through the works with my heart. Symptoms very similar to your’s but i have other ones like swollen feet and legs, palpatations, and all i have had a echo and a stress test and even a cardiac cath. Heart disease and diabetes run in my family and me being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis ( severe ) everything has gotten worse. my biggest fear is having a heart attack and not being here for my little girl who is almost 5. i will be praying for you.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Oh my gosh! That sounds horrible. I hope that you are able to get all the care that you need so that you can avoid what I had to go through. I will pray for you, too.