When a wave of exhaustion came over Sheryl one summer weekend in 2015, she thought it was unusual. She spent the weekend struggling to fold laundry and leaning on furniture to rest. But Sheryl was busy that weekend, so she brushed off her symptoms.
Several months later, Sheryl was working at her desk when intense chest and jaw pain set in—two classic signs of a heart attack. Family members encouraged Sheryl to go to the emergency room where doctors ran the standard tests, including an EKG and blood work.
Doctors determined that Sheryl was not having a heart attack that day, instead diagnosing her with a gastrointestinal issue. Further cardiac tests indicated that she had no heart issues. Yet Sheryl was not convinced.
“I knew in my gut that something was wrong,” said Sheryl.
The next four years were frustrating for her. The chest and jaw pain bothered her intermittently, and regular visits to the doctor revealed no new information. She suspected something was wrong with her heart, but no tests or doctors could confirm it. During this time, she focused on exercising, eating right, and researching possible diagnoses.
Then one night in 2019, Sheryl awoke to extreme pain radiating through her chest and jaw. Alarmed by the severity of her symptoms, she knew it was time for a new strategy: She had to self-advocate.
Sheryl meticulously compiled her medical history and presented it to a doctor who specialized in the conditions she had researched. A rare and specific type of angiogram finally validated her suspicions of a heart condition. She was diagnosed with coronary microvascular disease, a condition that causes the small blood vessels in her heart to spasm and block blood flow to the muscle.
Sheryl celebrated her diagnosis but knew it was an under-researched condition with few treatment options. Participating in a research study helped alleviate her symptoms, but Sheryl is living with heart disease, and her energy levels continue to decline. Today, she struggles to walk a block or put on a pair of shoes.
“My greatest hope for the future is that there will be more research about microvascular disease so we can get more education for physicians and more definitive tests to diagnose it,” said Sheryl. “I don’t want other people to go through what I did in my long journey to get a diagnosis.”
Sheryl will share her story at the American Heart Association’s Twin Cities Go Red for Women Evening of Empowerment on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 at Quincy Hall in Minneapolis. Stacy Beske, Vice President Integration Business Leader at Medtronic, and her daughter, Skylar Radford, are co-chairs of the campaign.
Go Red for Women is a worldwide initiative designed to increase women’s heart health awareness and serve as a catalyst for change to improve the lives of women locally, nationally, and globally.
For more information about the event and Go Red for Women, visit heart.org/twincitiesgoredevents.