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February Is American Heart Month

Cardiac Arrest Survivor

Amy Cavaliere

In January of 2017, I was 35 years old and healthy. I worked out regularly at boxing and spin classes, and was running after three kids under the age of nine. There was no history of heart disease or heart issues in my family, and no warning signs of the heart event I was about to experience.

On January 31, 2017, I was feeling a little nauseous. My husband travels about once a week for work, but had flown home that night for an Open House at our kids’ school the next morning, so I was able to head to bed early while he took care of them.

I woke up early the next day, and as I was starting to help the kids get ready for the day, I realized that both my arms hurt. I figured I might have strained it by lifting something heavy. But while I was brushing my daughter’s hair, I started to feel a huge, crushing weight in my chest. My arms suddenly hurt too much to move, and I started experiencing shortness of breath.

I called my husband over to help – I was convinced I was having a panic attack, although I had never experienced one before, and he sat me down in the hallway with a paper bag to help slow my breathing. He wanted to call 9-1-1, but I had caught my breath enough to tell him not to worry – calling an ambulance would have been overkill.

Lucky for me, he didn’t listen.

Shortly after I was loaded into the ambulance I went into cardiac arrest and lost consciousness.

Stuck in mid-morning traffic, the paramedics gave me a shot of epinephrine to revive me which worked temporarily, but within a minute I was back in cardiac arrest. The paramedic started to perform CPR until we arrived at the hospital. The ER staff continued CPR on me for over 40 minutes in total. Their persistence in performing CPR is what kept me alive.

Once my heart was stabilized, doctors discovered I had a 100% occluded coronary artery, and attempting to clear the blockage could puncture my artery and kill me. It took them hours to get me stable enough for the LifeFlight to another hospital for specialized cardiac and neurologic care, because on top of the heart attack, I had begun seizing.

I was placed in a medically-induced coma and lived on life support for 8 days. Over that time, one of my lungs collapsed, I contracted double pneumonia, and there was concern that my brain was swelling. Because of the pneumonia, my lungs had filled with fluid, and due to the traumatic intubation to help my breathing I had developed severe tracheal stenosis. An emergency bronchoscopy had to be performed to help clear my airway.

When I was finally extubated and brought off all the sedation and paralytics, I was told I had survived a SCAD event, or a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, a condition where a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart and blocks blood flow. SCADs often result in sudden death, and cannot be prevented no matter how healthy you are. If my husband hadn’t been home that morning, or had left me at home to take the kids to school as I’d asked, I would not be here today.

Thanks to him and my amazing medical attendants, I’m alive today to share my story.

The face of cardiac arrest isn’t just someone old or physically out of shape. It’s me, and plenty of other young people and mothers who do everything right to maintain their health. It shouldn’t have happened to me, but it did. And I’m committed to helping others get through it, just as I have done.

During this unprecedented time in our lives, the American Heart Association is redoubling our commitment to eliminating heart disease and stroke and improving the health of all Americans. Through science, advocacy and community work, the American Heart Association wants to help everyone live longer, healthier lives! During American Heart Month, and throughout the year, the American Heart Association encourages Americans to focus on their heart health. Together, we can build a culture of health where making the healthy choice is the easy choice.

Women face higher risk of stroke


One in 5 women has a stroke. About 55,000 more women than men have a stroke each year.

#4 cause of death

Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death in women. Stroke kills over 80,000 women a year.

Among women, black women have the highest prevalence of stroke.

TALK TO YOUR HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL ABOUT HOW TO LOWER YOUR RISK and use the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association prevention guidelines:


Are pregnant

Pregnant women are three times more likely to have a stroke as non-pregnant women of the same age.

Have preeclampsia

This dangerous condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy doubles stroke risk later in life.

Take birth control pills

These can double the risk of stroke, especially in women with high blood pressure.

Use hormone replacement therapy

It doesn’t lower stroke risk if postmenopausal, as once thought.

Have migraines with aura and smoke

Strokes are more common in women who have migraines with aura and smoke, compared with other women.

Have atrial fibrillation

This quivering or irregular heartbeat can increase stroke risk fivefold.


Talk to their health care professional to determine safest medication if pregnant with high blood pressure.

Discuss with their health care professional low-dose aspirin guidelines starting in the second trimester (week 12) to lower preeclampsia risk.

Get their blood pressure checked before taking birth control pills and monitor every six months.

Review the risk and benefits of hormone replacement therapy with their health care professional and discuss if the benefit outweighs the risks. For some women, it might not.

Quit smoking. All women who experience migraines and smoke should avoid smoking, nicotine use, vaping and e-cigarettes.

Get screened for atrial fibrillation if over the age of 75 as this condition then becomes more common in women.

Learn more at

© Copyright 2021 American Heart Association, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. All rights reserved. American Stroke Association is a registered trademark of the AHA. Unauthorized use prohibited. DS17628 4/21



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