Avera Medical Minute: Woman shares her story of surviving a sneaky heart attack

Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 10:29 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Keeping her stress and anxiety in check was something that Elizabeth Semrau had been managing for the last couple of years.

But on Easter Sunday of last year, she thought she was having a panic attack.

It turns out it was something even more severe.

“Nothing really helped. I was trying all of the things that I knew how to do to kind of alleviate my stress, alleviate my anxiety. So I went into urgent care, and the nurse practitioner was like, you know, I really don’t like this. So they decided to run an EKG. I remember her saying, we’re going to get you into a wheelchair and we’re going to get you over to the emergency room. I get over there and there’s a lot of commotion in the ER. Finally, I was like, is somebody tell me what’s going on? And the nurse just grabs my ankles and she’s like, Honey, you’re having a heart attack. It was the scariest words I could have ever heard. It never had registered with me or crossed my mind that at 36 years old, I could have a heart attack,” said Semrau.

“Well, thankfully, that’s pretty uncommon to have a heart attack at that age, you know. But it can happen and is more common with certain types of risk factors. You know, women especially may not present with classic chest pain or discomfort, you know, with a heart attack or coronary artery disease. Sometimes it’s more subtle,” said Dr. Thomas Waterbury, an interventional cardiologist with the North Central Heart Institute a division of the Avera Heart Hospital.

“They got me into the ambulance and brought me over to the hospital. Even though it was Easter Sunday, the cath lab team was there within a very short amount of time,” said Semrau.

“In the cath lab, as an interventional cardiologist, we usually go in through an artery, either an artery in the wrist or the femoral artery in the leg. We run catheters up and engage the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle and we do that under live X-ray. We call it fluoroscopy. And then once we find the culprit lesion or artery that’s involved, we use a small wire to try to navigate past that blockage and then use balloons and stents to relieve the blockage and restore flow to the artery,” said Dr. Waterbury.

“I was very, very fortunate that they caught it when they did. I had a 99% blockage of my leg, which most people don’t survive from,” said Semrau. Yeah, absolutely it was very wise that she didn’t ignore her symptoms. Especially in a heart attack, when an artery is completely blocked, time is muscle. So the sooner we can get to the patient and try to open up that blocked or occluded artery, you know, the more heart muscle that we can save and lower risk of complications down the road,” said Dr. Waterbury.

“It was a huge relief that it was no longer an emergency. Now, this is a start of a new process and a new life. I take it every day and cherish it because tomorrow is never promised. The next minute is never promised,” said Semrau.

“You know, this story highlights the importance of paying attention to your symptoms. And if something feels unusual or concerning to you, don’t hesitate to get evaluated,” said Dr. Waterbury.

“It can happen, and it happens quick! Listen to your body. Even if you are a mom or a woman and you’re taking care of everything else and everybody else. You have to take care of yourself as well,” said Semrau.

Elizabeth’s story is already having a lasting impact.

One of her close friends recognized their own subtle symptoms and because of what happened with Elizabeth, went to the doctor and discovered they too were having a heart attack.

For more on this story and to find heart health resources, go to Avera.org/MedicalMinute