I Had A Widowmaker Heart Attack And Lived: Widowmaker Heart Attack Symptoms

I Had A Widowmaker Heart Attack And Lived: Widowmaker Heart Attack Symptoms

2 weeks ago I came very close to dying. I was alone at home and had a “Widowmaker Heart Attack,” also known as “The Big One.” I am sure most of you have heard of this type of heart attack. It’s the kind that Bob Harper from “The Biggest Loser” had [he survived] and it’s the kind that killed the dad on “This Is Us.” I am only 41 and had no risk factors except for my weight, which I had been working on and had lost a good bit of recently. No high cholesterol, no high blood pressure, no diabetes. Nothing. But my dad died suddenly at 46 of a heart attack. He also smoked which I do not and, because of that, I thought I was safe until at least 46, but I was very wrong.

I Had A Widowmaker Heart Attack And Lived: Widowmaker Heart Attack Symptoms

In restrospect, I had symptoms for several days before the widowmaker heart attack. As many of you who read this blog know, I have asthma. And this year, my asthma has seemed particularly bad. I have gone without using an inhaler or taking other asthma controlling meds for years as taking a daily allergy pill seemed to mostly control my symptoms. But this year, my asthma seemed to be particularly hard to control. Catching my breath has just been so difficult.

I went to Carolina Country Music Fest in early June and was sick the entire time. I came back home and was diagnosed with the flu and, honestly, I just hadn’t felt like myself since then. So, I chalked up the shortness of breath I experienced on Wednesday night, July 18th, as either after effects of the flu or more asthma symptoms. I did call my doctor on Thursday morning though and went in for a visit where I told her that I felt my asthma was out of control and she re-prescribed me a daily inhaler to try, which I had done years earlier. I was not able to get that prescription filled until Friday evening as my pharmacy was out, so I kept experiencing the breathing symptoms but had no reason to believe it was anything else as I had not been able to use the new inhaler yet. So, Wednesday – Friday I felt a lot of shortness of breath, probably every 4-6 hours.

Over the weekend, the symptoms became more intense. My back started hurting and I started feeling like I was hyperventilating more often. This probably increased to every 4 hours then. I also started getting tunnel vision on occasion and I just didn’t feel quite in my body. And my right shoulder hurt. I would say that I felt some heaviness in my chest but never anything really major. It was pretty much a lot of vague stuff. Mostly the right shoulder bothered me and the inability to breathe well.

I never once experienced left side chest pain and certainly no pain that made me grab my chest like you see in the movies.

I called my doctor’s office on Sunday and asked to speak to the on call physician and I was told that I would get a call back but I never did. This didn’t concern me too much because, at this point, I assumed I was having panic attacks or something like that. I had never had a panic attack but the symptoms seemed to align. I just didn’t consider what I was going through a medical emergency. It sucked. But it didn’t seem like an emergency.

Sunday night I went to sleep and I was miserable. I woke up every hour hyperventilating, with a cold sweat, and I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. My right shoulder hurt pretty badly and my back hurt as well and I just could not get comfortable. I felt really miserable, but I still didn’t have any classic heart attack symptoms as far as I was concerned so I didn’t see it as a medical emergency. Heart attack just didn’t cross my mind.

I called my doctor on Monday, July 23rd, and they said that they could not get me in until August. After I told them of my symptoms they told me that I should call 911. Personally, I still didn’t think it was an emergency, so I thought about it a little while longer after getting off of the phone with them. I mean, I didn’t want to be that person that calls 911 for something like a strained shoulder and gas, know what I mean? I was still coherent. I had no left side chest pain. I had asthma, so it was really easy to chalk most of the symptoms up to that as I had definitely experienced lung pain and shortness of breath in the past. It was easy to make it seem like what I was experiencing was nothing.

From Sunday night until that Monday morning, I would have waves of these symptoms, every hour. I would sleep on and off all night, only to be awoken, again and again. Finally I thought to myself, “emergency or not, I can’t live like this.” Also, I was at home alone. What would happen if I waited too long? I wasn’t going to be that person either.

I called 911. Then I calmly put Daisy Baby in the bathroom along with her food and water. Then I changed clothes as I didn’t want paramedics cutting the clothes I had on off of me. Like I said, I was coherent. Then I sat on the couch and they arrived at my house so fast.

Calling 911 was definitely the right decision. The paramedics had to shock me in my yard as I was in a bad heart rhythm called V-tach. I was again shocked when I reached Northern Hospital [our local hospital]. After running some tests, Northern Hospital informed me that I had heart failure, so they sent me to Wake Forest Baptist Health who then took over care.

And 2 weeks later I am alive, sitting in my living room sharing my experience with you and so very thankful. I am trying to be very thorough so that my posts are actually helpful so this post has become quite lengthy. You can read about what happened next at the hospital here.

About Dawn McAlexander

Dawn is a full time travel and lifestyle blogger. Besides Cheap Is The New Classy, she also owns and writes for EatPlayRock.com, 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. Kimberly Conover Dickerson says:

    What a truly scary experience, Dawn. I’m so glad you called 911 because I couldn’t imagine this world without you. I’m glad you’re writing this post too because you never know who it could help.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Thank you so much! I am so glad that I did, too. Glad to be here to see you again one day. ๐Ÿ˜€

  2. That’s horrifying!!! So sorry you had to go through this. Thank you for sharing to help others. Thank goodness you called 911 when you did.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      That’s ok. I think we all go through the things we go through for a reason. I really hope that someone reads this post and it helps them make the decision to call 911 when they need to.

  3. So glad you called 911 but honestly, I would have done the same thing and just figured it was related to something else. It’s tough to know when there is actually an emergency and when it’s just symptoms of something that will pass! Thanks for sharing and so very thankful you are better now!!! What a scary experience for you!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Right! It just didn’t seem like what I had always assumed a heart attack would feel like. It seemed more of a horrible nuisance than anything.

  4. Melody Foote says:

    Oh My Goodness! How terrifying. I’m so glad you are doing well. Thank you for sharing your symptoms with everyone. Women experience heart attacks differently from men. Take care of yourself.!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Yeah, it was an odd feeling when they told me that I had a heart attack and heart failure. I was like, “What?” I am feeling pretty good right now and very thankful to be here.

  5. Thank God you called and are ok now. I hope you have a good recovery.

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      Thank you so very much. So far, so good. ๐Ÿ™‚ I even made a lap around Walmart today shopping!

  6. Rayleen Norman says:

    Thanks for sharing Dawn! I lost three men that I knew in one year, one of them my husband, and all of them in their 40’s. A lot of us need to accept that we’re not as young as we used to be and our bodies complaining can be big health problems. I need to lose weight before I become diabetic, but it seems I have no urgency for that : ( . Hearing stories like yours is important for us to be more aware of our own health. I’m really glad you made it through, and also glad you chose to write about it!

    • Dawn McAlexander says:

      I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and for the other two men in your life. At 40, we still feel kind of invincible though not so much as we did in our 20s. But a heart attack at 40 [or 41, in my case] seems so odd. But, like you said, we are not as young as we used to be, so we need to make sure we take the very best care of ourselves that we can. I hope that you and your boys are doing well. <3

  7. Pam Wattenbarger says:

    Well, I am glad you called 911 when you did. And thanks for sharing your symptoms and the story of what happened in the hospital. Lots of people probably have the same symptoms and dismiss them.

  8. Thank you for sharing about your experience. First of all I am so thankful that you survived. Please continue to take care of yourself.

  9. Holy crap Dawn!! I’m just seeing this now. What an experience, so glad you’re okay!! Rest up and take it easy!!