Heart Attack at 37

Article Date: Feb 11, 2011

To Debbie Massey – every day is a gift.

“It’s a miracle I’m still here today,” she says.

She’s grateful for every tap of the toe, and every tick of her heart. At just 37 years old, the dance instructor found herself in what she thought was an unlikely place – suffering chest pains in the emergency room at Alegent Health Lakeside Hospital.

“Something in my gut was telling me to get checked out,” Debbie recalls. “I don’t know why I did. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. My cholesterol is perfect. I eat right.”

In fact, she was embarrassed and ready to go home when the trained staff recognized what was wrong.

“I had a heart attack.”

And they started treatment right away.

“Even though I still had no idea what was happening to me, they knew from my symptoms I was describing and they knew they needed to take action immediately.”

Dr. Joe Jarzobski is Debbie’s cardiologist. He was on call for Alegent Health Clinic when she showed up in the ER. He went to work trying to figure out why a seemingly healthy woman was battling heart disease in her 30s.

“She’s thin, she exercises and does the right things and her lipids were not that bad,” Dr. Jarzobski recalls.

What didn’t show up on all the tests they ran was something Debbie’s parents never talked about – the Massey family history.

“The grandparents had heart attacks at early ages in their 30s,” Dr. Jarzobski says. “The father has high blood pressure and that was really her major risk factor and that’s one we can’t change.”

But they can manage her risks with a handful of pills every day. She also keeps close watch on what she eats and her passion for dancing keeps her active. But Debbie also has a new passion – she is now a crusader for heart disease, teaching others to recognize the signs no one should ignore.

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