ó Carrie OíConnor thought she was a fairly healthy
35-year-old who went on daily jogs and ate well.
more than a year ago, she suffered back-to-back heart attacks.
first hit while she was treating herself to baubles at Smyth
Jewelers in Timonium, Md. The project manager at T. Rowe Price
suddenly felt nauseated and severe pain consumed her stomach.
Pain shot up her arm and her jaw ached. All were common
symptoms of a heart attack, the paramedics later told her.
second happened later that day when doctors tried to insert a
stent to open a blocked left artery they believed had caused
the first attack. During the procedure, two of her other
arteries began to spasm and she had a massive heart attack.
disease is often seen as an older personís affliction.
Nationwide, the average age at a first heart attack is 64 for
men and 72 for women, according to the American Heart
Association. About 10 years ago, the average ages were 65.8
for men and 70.4 for women.
heart attacks also can occur in younger patients like OíConnor
who are seemingly healthy, caught off guard by the
life-changing illness. They find themselves dealing with
problems more typical of people their parentsí age, taking
loads of pills and limiting strenuous activity to protect
their weakened hearts.
was not something I expected at all," OíConnor said.
"We donít have family history. I donít have any
typical risk factors. Iím not overweight. I donít smoke. I
Arundel Medical Center, where OíConnor received cardiac
rehabilitation, the hospital saw such a surge in young
patients that it started a support group to help them cope. In
2009, the average age of heart attack patients at the hospital
was 70 years. In 2012, it was 60.
addition to the bread-and-butter standard cases, we are seeing
it in younger folks and it is not completely clear why that
is," said Scott Katzen, a general and interventional
cardiologist with Cardiology Associates who has privileges at
Anne Arundel Medical Center.
recent years, some high-profile deaths have brought further
attention to the issue. James Gandolfini, who starred in the
popular "The Sopranos" television series, died at
age 51 from a massive heart attack. Actor Michael Clarke
Duncan died at age 54 after suffering a heart attack.
believe some of the attacks are brought on by genetic causes,
but doctors also point to the nationís obesity problem as a
factor. Stress also could play a role, although further study
needs to be done, some doctors said.
have started to pay better attention to possible symptoms in
younger patients and not discount signs because of the personís
age, said Jeffrey L. Quartner, chief of cardiology at MedStar
Union Memorial Hospital and a board member of the American
Heart Association Maryland.
have changed our sensitivity to realize young people have
heart attacks as well," Quartner said.
Pendleton Duhon, a 37-year-old teacher, was riding in the car
with her mother in June 2012. That is the last thing she
remembers from that day.
mother would later tell her she slumped over in
mid-conversation. Paramedics shocked Duhonís heart three
times to revive her. Doctors would determine later she went
into cardiac arrest.
hospital, they reduced her body temperature to near freezing,
a procedure sometimes used on heart-attack patients to induce
a coma and calm the body to help with healing.
recovered, but doctors arenít 100 percent sure what caused
the attack and the incident has changed her life forever. Her
heart only operates at 30 percent of its function and she
takes numerous medications. Doctors implanted a defibrillator
on her heart so if she suffers another attack it will
automatically shock the organ.
biggest change has been the emotional effect. Once a personal
trainer in tip-top health, Duhon now sometimes worries whether
her heart will fail again.
OíConnor were the first members of the support group started
at Anne Arundel Medical Center to help young people cope after
a heart attack.
needed a community to talk about this," Duhon said.
"Weíre young women who didnít expect any of this to
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Walters, a nurse in the cardiac rehab unit at Anne Arundel
Medical Center who helps run the support group, said younger
patients may go into depression and start to question their
mortality. Talking to people their age helps them accept their
situation, she said. They can also gain tips from one anotherís
Weitzel, a 48-year-old Crownsville, Md., contractor, felt
symptoms for almost two days before having a heart attack in
2013. He felt numbness in his arms and jaw, a tightness in his
chest and felt as if he had bad indigestion. His body was achy
all over. He visited an urgent-care center and was sent home.
was walking to the bathroom when he fell in the hallway. His
wife heard his body crash and called an ambulance.
was overweight and didnít eat well before suffering his
heart attack. He has since lost 30 pounds and is trying to
the support group has helped.
was a wake-up call," he said. "Itís hard to
realize youíre young and have some serious heart