Doris McLaughlin and her husband Don thought of a good way to spend a Saturday in Comox last May: an art show followed by some lunch.
But as soon as she got out of the car, she felt the burning sensation of what she thought was acid reflux.
The feeling was persistent but normal, as she has a prescription for the condition. So McLaughlin, now 78, took some medication in the hopes it would soon dissipate.
But the feeling didn’t go away; not even her regular medication helped.
“We have a blood pressure machine at home, and I took my blood pressure around 4 p.m. that day. It was 190 (systolic) and I said we better go up to the emergency room,” she recalls.
She explained Don had suffered from a heart attack a year prior, but the symptoms she suffered were much different then what her husband experienced and admits it never crossed her mind she could be suffering from one as well.
Following a variety of tests at the hospital, McLaughlin burst into tears when the doctor told her she had just experienced a mild heart attack.
Following some time in hospital, she was transferred to Royal Jubilee in Victoria where her “difficult and complex” angioplasty resulted in her having six stents.
The couple wants to share their story - and their experiences leading up to their respective heart attacks - to bring awareness to the variety and types of symptoms experienced by both men and women.
February is heart month, which is used to bring attention to the importance of cardiovascular health and what individuals can do to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
McLaughlin said many of her friends ask to share her story, as she didn’t consider herself - nor her husband - the typical candidates to experience heart attacks; they exercise regularly, eat healthily and consider themselves to be in overall good health.
So a few days after she was released from hospital, she couldn’t believe when she started to feel the same pain as before in her chest.
They returned to the ER in Courtenay, and staff concluded she had another heart attack. She was kept in the intensive care unit until further discussion with her heart surgeon in Victoria, and it was determined she didn’t have a second one, rather, it was a residual effect from surgery.
“Because the angioplasty was complex and critical, it resulted from that. It’s like disturbing a muscle, and it takes time to recover.”
• • •
In February 2018, Don McLaughlin, now 80, was getting out of his hot tub outside his home when his body came crashing down. He skinned his knee and found himself in some pain.
He decided to take some pain killers to help. A few days later on his usual walk in the Lazo area, he cut it short as he felt sore from the fall, but found himself out of breath when he arrived at his car. He also had some tightness in his chest.
Doris suggested they go to the ER.
Following some blood work, a doctor told him he had suffered a heart attack about four hours prior - in the middle of their walk.
“The thing is, he looked fine. They kept asking him, but he wasn’t in any pain,” says Doris.
A few days later, Don was transported to hospital in Victoria where he had surgery to insert seven stents.
Since the incident, Don notes he remains active - he continues to shovel his driveway when it snows, he’s installed the fence around his Courtenay home and watches his diet.
The pair admits it was difficult at first to lose the fear of having another heart attack.
“I get nervous because I still get acid reflux,” explains Doris. “I had to tell myself it’s just reflux. Our blood is flowing better in our hearts than before.”
The McLaughlins continue to carefully monitor their blood pressure and regularly visit their doctors while taking their prescribed medication.
They remain active with skiing, walks and swimming.
“We feel very, very, very fortunate,” says Doris with a smile.
For more information about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack for women and men, visit heartandstroke.ca.