Henrietta's Story

Henrietta Henderson changed her life after suffering a massive heart attack. Her daughter, Tyra (pictured on left) had already seen the effects of heart disease seven years earlier when her father suffered a fatal massive heart attack.

On the evening of January 8, 2012, Henrietta Henderson’s life changed forever. She was visiting at her boyfriend’s house for an evening of cards with friends and family. But as the night was winding down and she was getting ready to leave, she couldn’t shake the feeling of a heavy burp.

“I had this funny pain between my breasts, like I had to burp,” says the now 60-year-old. “I was continually rubbing [my sternum] in a circular motion.”

She asked her boyfriend, Billy, for a drink. After taking a huge gulp of Coke, she still couldn’t get the burp up, she says. It subsided a bit until a few minutes later the pain began to get stronger. That’s when she knew she needed to go to the emergency room.

After arriving at University Hospitals’ ER, the last thing she remembers before waking up in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit was speaking to the receptionist at the ER’s front desk.

Henderson had a massive heart attack. Emergency paramedics immediately rushed her to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab. Marco Costa, MD, cardiovascular interventionalist at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, performed the procedure and placed a stent in one of her coronary arteries, which was 100 percent blocked. Instead of open-heart surgery, he inserted a catheter – and then the stent – through a very small incision on her groin and threaded it through Henderson’s arterial system until he reached the clogged coronary artery.

“They said to me, ‘It’s amazing to see you up and walking around because you died at least three times on us. You are a miracle,’” says Henderson, who takes two blood-thinner medications, in addition to several others. “I know I’m a miracle. It was a matter of life or death.”

Prior to the incident, Henderson didn’t experience many symptoms of a heart attack, except for hot flashes. As both a division secretary at University Hospitals and receptionist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, Henderson recalls breaking out into a sweat several times at work. She’d simply put a cold compress on her forehead and drink some cool water, and it’d eventually go away. She just attributed these episodes to age and menopause, but Dr. Lloyd Greene, cardiologist at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, suggests she could have been experiencing tiny heart attacks back then.

“I will be there 34 years in May, and I have never been a patient at University Hospitals [during that time],” says Henderson proudly. “I’ve always been an employee, and I got a chance to see what the other side looks like.”

One year after surgery, Henderson is proud to say her last cigarette was in the wee hours of that dreadful evening. She’s working on dropping a few pounds – making sure to add more vegetables into her diet – so she can go off one of her blood-thinner medications. She has started an active lifestyle, walking around the hospital during lunch hours and diving back into martial arts.

“It was very touch-and-go there, but I’m just thankful I’m here,” she says. “At Thanksgiving, I really gave a lot of thanks. I feel wonderful; I’m thankful that I’m here and I can talk about it.”

By Lyndsey Frey, as featured in the American Heart Association Go Red for Women special section of Cleveland Magazine, February 2013