Actress Tracey Conway was emcee of a fundraiser for a trauma hospital when her heart started beating out of her chest and she had all the signs she was about to faint.
She thought she was going into cardiac arrest.
“I thought, ‘I’m with people from a trauma hospital, surely someone will know what to do,’” she told attendees of the annual “Heart Truth” lunch on Thursday.
Luckily, it wasn’t a cardiac event, but Conway had reason to be skittish. It had been just six weeks earlier, on the set of her sketch comedy show “Almost Live,” (yes, she’s aware of the irony) where she’d gone into cardiac arrest.
It wasn’t a heart attack, but it was ventricular fibrillation, where the heart is no longer in sync.
She has proof, a medical incident report from that night has “dead” circled to answer the question of what condition she was in when firefighters and paramedics arrived.
Luckily for her, there was a volunteer firefighter in the audience who started CPR and she was rushed to the hospital – the same one where she was the emcee six weeks later.
She says it was a “perfect storm” of events that led to her cardiac arrest: she had been, years before, diagnosed with a heart murmur and and an arrhythmic heart. Her diet at the time was poor and she likely experienced a surge of adrenaline that night before going onstage. To top it off, Conway, who wasn’t a smoker, had been smoking a few cigarettes “in character” for one of the sketches.
Except for the part about dying in front of a live studio audience, Conway’s experience isn’t that uncommon. Heart disease actually is more prevalent than breast cancer in women and is the No. 1 killer of men and women, said Dr. Margaret Schaufler, of West Georgia Gynecology and Primary Care.
“Many think it’s a male disease, but it’s devastating in women,” Schaufler said. “And it’s almost entirely preventable.”
Not only do women tend to downplay their symptoms, they also have different symptoms than men. It could be pain in the arm, back, neck or jaw or a tingling or burning or pressure. It could also be more vague symptoms, like a sudden change in how a woman feels, including a feeling of impending doom.
Conway had some advice for the women gathered at the heart lunch. First, learn CPR. She learned it after her incident and had the opportunity to give CPR to a live person in an emergency.
“It is scary (to do CPR on a live person) but I’m glad I did it,” she said.
She also encourages women to take time out for themselves.
“Give yourself permission to have fun,” she said. “Please know how valuable you are. Be as generous to yourself as you are to others. Your heart is the first organ to develop in your body. It’s devoted to you. Be devoted to it.”