Her coworkers weren't concerned either—not even when the 245-pound King got so dizzy that she lay down on the floor by her desk. She asked someone to call her husband, who drove her to the ER, where she waited 45 minutes while a man with a foot injury was treated first. When she was finally called into an exam room, an EKG revealed that she was having a heart attack. Doctors inserted a stent to restore blood flow to her heart and sent her home 5 days later with 11 prescriptions.
Another doctor referred her to the Heart & Stroke Prevention Center in Spokane, Washington, where Bradley Bale, MD, diagnosed her with prediabetes, which boosts heart attack risk, as does the mutation in her KIF6 gene that genetic tests uncovered.
"Quite frankly, I consider the medical care she received to be substandard," says Dr. Bale. "If she'd been a man, no provider would have even considered an anxiety diagnosis without doing a full cardiac workup." As for her treatment in the ER? "If a man had come in with those symptoms, he would've gotten an immediate EKG, but the assumption was that this is just another hysterical female who is probably having a panic attack."
Dr. Bale prescribed a statin, a beta-blocker, an ACE inhibitor, and a diabetes drug. A year later, after losing 45 pounds with a low-sugar diet and jogging, the 5-foot-4 King no longer needed the diabetes drug. Her husband landed a job too, lowering her financial stress. As for her own demanding position, where her coworkers didn't call 911? She quit and found a new job that requires 8 hours a day instead of 10.
Screenings she should have had: Advanced cholesterol test, stress echocardiography.
Job: At-home mother
Status: Married, two children
For a year, Laura Younger couldn't shake her exhaustion. "I'd get out of breath walking up stairs," she says. Her doctor checked her twice for an underactive thyroid, which can also cause fatigue and shortness of breath, but said nothing was wrong.
At a football game in November 2006, Younger left the stands to go to the restroom. When she hadn't returned 20 minutes later, her husband found her sitting on the floor, out of breath, with neck and jaw pain—and without a single bystander offering to help. At the first-aid station, just after paramedics said her blood pressure was normal, she collapsed in full cardiac arrest.
An ambulance rushed her to Ohio State University Medical Center, where a catheterization revealed one of her arteries was 100 percent blocked and two were 85 percent clogged. She was put into a high-tech "cold suit" that chilled her body to 91 degrees Farenheit, a treatment that reduces the brain's need for oxygen and helps it heal after a heart attack. Doctors then inserted stents to reopen the vessels.
When she woke up and found out what had happened, she had one thought: A heart attack? Me? Though overweight at 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, she had no other risk factors that she knew of. She was referred to cardiac rehab, a 12- to 16-week recovery program increasingly being prescribed after heart attacks and paid for by insurance. Patients exercise under staff supervision and work with a nutritionist to improve their diets. But the day before she was to start, she was back in the ER with chest pain. This time the culprit was vasospasm, a sudden narrowing of an artery that chokes off blood flow to the heart. Surgeons implanted a defibrillator.
She sustained only minimal heart damage and was a star in rehab. "But when my mother died, I let my diet and exercise slide," she admits. She's back to her old weight.
However, the defibrillator has helped her stop living in fear. She takes six heart drugs (including a statin and a beta blocker), has twice-yearly appointments with her cardiologist—and no longer sees the doctor who kept testing her thyroid.
Screenings she should have had: Cardiac calcium scoring, CIMT.