Va. Sen. thanks shattered ankle for saving life after ‘silent’ heart attack

What may have saved a Virginia senator’s life? A shattered ankle.

Va. Sen. Janet Howell, D-32, credits a crushed ankle after falling on some rocks with saving her life during a trip to the Adirondacks in New York.

According to Howell, she was carried off the rocks, put on a boat then a car by her husband Hunt and son Brian, who drove her to a hospital.

After that “amazing rescue” by her family, doctors performed blood tests and discovered that Howell had suffered a “silent” heart attack.

“Silent” heart attacks often pose no symptoms, can be mistaken for heartburn, can be interpreted as muscle pain and may be mistaken as simply not feeling well.

Older women are particularly at risk.

Howell says she was taken to a hospital in Albany, where doctors performed a cardiac catheterization, revealing “extensive blockages” in her heart.

“I was close to Archie Bunker’s ‘Big One,'” Howell wrote in an Aug. 8 newsletter.

She underwent a successful quadruple bypass in Albany.

“Never was I so grateful for a shattered ankle!” she wrote.

As many as one in four heart attacks is ignored for various reasons; experts warn that allowing them to go unaddressed increases the risk for permanent heart damage or death.

Those especially at risk for silent heart attacks are people with prior heart disease, diabetes patients and the elderly — older women in particular.

“Women live longer than men and their heart disease presents later than men,” Dr. Allen J. Taylor, chief of cardiology at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, told WTOP in a 2018 interview.

“There’s also some concern that women sometimes ignore symptoms. They’re the caregivers, not the care receivers. So, there’s a cultural barrier to recognition.”

Risk factors for silent heart attacks mirror those for traditional heart attacks: They include smoking, sedentary lifestyle, family history, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

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