Friend’s heart attack warnings help woman survive own ordeal

Cardiac rehab patient now strengthening her heart at Sanford Bismarck

A mature Sanford Health cardiac rehab patient works out on a stationary bike.

At Sanford cardiac rehab in Bismarck, North Dakota, patients from the region work hard to strengthen their hearts, and recently few have shown more heart than Shirly Benz of Moffit, North Dakota.

“She does bring a lot of energy, and you can tell the people around her at rehab get a lot of energy from her when she comes,” said Andi Jackson, a registered nurse at Sanford Bismarck.

The 73-year-old Benz is recovering from a heart attack. Benz says that she very likely wouldn’t have survived her ordeal if her friend Bev Voller hadn’t warned her of symptoms she had before her own heart attack.

Warning signs in women

“I’ve had heartburn all my life, and I was getting to the point where it was getting so bad that I needed to do something, and Bev called me one day and said, ‘Can I stop at your house?’” said Benz. “So she stopped down and she said, ‘You don’t know what happened to me, do you?’ I said, ‘No, what happened?’ And she goes, ‘I had a heart attack and I was in the hospital … don’t let this heartburn go on.’”

While heart attack victims often experience chest pain, women typically have different symptoms than men. In Benz’s case, she didn’t have pain down her arm, but instead was dealing with heartburn, earaches, jaw pain, and extreme fatigue.

“When in doubt, check it out,” said Jackson.

That’s what Benz did. She made an appointment with her doctor for the following Wednesday, but things got worse before her scheduled appointment.

“I came up the steps and I just had no energy. When I did get up the steps, I kind of laid across the counter and my husband goes, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong, but I need to get to Bismarck,’” said Benz.

She went to a walk-in clinic.

“The doctor came in and she said, ‘Shirly, if you were my mother, you’d be in the emergency room. … You’re having a heart attack.’”

Benz says she typically fights her way through any pain, and had been playing off her heartburn, fatigue and achiness as “just something that happens.” But her friend’s story made her think twice, which she says saved her life.

Cardiac rehab builds strength

Now she’s rehabbing at Sanford, building up her heart strength one session at a time.

“Shirly’s a seamstress. She helps on the farm. So it’s important that she’s using her upper body and lower body because she is very active. We want to make sure we accommodate her so she can find a good balance between what she’s doing here and continue it at home,” said Jackson.

Benz keeps getting stronger, and the folks at cardiac rehab work hard to monitor her levels. Even though no one ever questions her heart.

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Posted In Bismarck, Emergency Medicine, Heart, Rehabilitation & Therapy