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Tricia's Story - Surviving a Heart Attack


They call it the Widowmaker, and it’s just as serious as it sounds.

It’s a certain type of heart attack in which the artery that supplies a large portion of the heart with oxygen becomes completely blocked. As far as heart attacks go, this is the big one—with catastrophic consequences if not dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Last fall, when an artery supplying Tricia Morton’s heart with oxygen became blocked, Dr. Chao-Wei Hwang opened it up using Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI). Thanks to the collaboration of EMS, the FMH Emergency Department and the FMH Code Heart team, blood flow was restored to Tricia’s heart in less than an hour—resulting in very minimal damage.

Fortunately for Tricia, FMH had an Interventional Cardiology program that could be reached by ambulance from her Mt. Airy home within minutes. Had the situation been different, the outcome might have been very different as well…

Like many mothers with demanding jobs and busy lives, Tricia Morton didn’t have time to be sick. She prided herself on her ability to keep going, regardless of how she felt physically. Even after the 46-year-old advertising sales rep was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2012, she didn’t slow down very much.

Physical and cognitive symptoms came on quickly, but Tricia still kept going. It wasn’t unusual for her to experience mild chest and muscle pain, periods of breathlessness and intermittent pain in her arm. She attributed these discomforts to the progression of her MS, especially when a subsequent EKG was normal. She felt so well that the suggested cardiac follow-up tests were easy to forget.

On October 25th of last year, Tricia and her husband, John, cancelled dinner plans because she wasn’t feeling well. As the evening went on, Tricia’s symptoms worsened. By 10:00 PM, the pressure in her chest felt like a large bolder was sitting there. She was weak and disoriented, nauseated, breathless and in increasing pain. EMS arrived within moments of John’s 9-1-1 call.

Tricia’s STEMI was called in from the field, and the hospital’s heart attack team was ready and waiting upon her arrival. The artery that supplies oxygen to a large portion of the heart was 100 per cent blocked. Tricia was experiencing “the widowmaker”–one of the most serious heart attacks possible.

Because the cardiac catheterization room was ready and the Code Heart team arrived on site within 30 minutes, Tricia’s artery was opened and blood flow restored less than an hour after her arrival at FMH. Following a short hospital stay, Tricia went home. Thanks to the speed with which her artery was opened, she has very little damage to her heart despite the severity of her attack.


Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Chao-Wei Hwang with Tricia Morton.

“Tricia’s husband called 9-1-1,” said Dr. Brill, co-director of the hospital’s Interventional Cardiology program. “That is exactly what we want people to do when heart attack is suspected. Lost time is lost muscle, so the faster we can confirm a blockage, the faster we are able to open it up and restore blood flow. We have seen dramatic reductions in the time it takes to open a patient’s blocked artery because of the early activation of the hospital’s heart team by EMS personnel, and the superior collaboration of the FMH Emergency Department staff. Just a few seconds can make the difference in whether or not a patient is stable enough to begin the procedure safely.”

“FMH Interventional Cardiology is a remarkable program. The commitment to excellence and the dedication of the FMH team are unmatched. Frederick is very lucky to have this program here.” – Dr. Chao-Wei Hwang, Interventional Cardiologist