January 8, 2013

CVPH employee survives massive heart attack


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Monica Bernard had not been feeling well all weekend.

Now that she looks back at that Friday evening on Sept. 21, 2012, when she was planning to have her husband, Bruce, take her to the Emergency Department, Monica knows she should have acted quickly on what her body was telling her rather than brushing it aside.


“I got this really weird sensation from the top of my breast to my chin,” she recalled of that first symptom that something was not right. “It was like a huge air bubble, like I had to burp or throw up.”

By the time she and Bruce reached the family vehicle, the sensation had dissipated, and she decided not to bother with a trip from their home in Mooers to the ER.

“That Saturday, I was scheduled to work the weekend (as a clinical assistant at CVPH Medical Center),” she said. “When I was at work, the same pressure came back. I didn’t feel sick to my stomach, but the pressure was there all day. It wasn’t painful, just annoying.”

She returned home after her shift, almost pushing the annoyance from her mind, and returned to CVPH for her afternoon shift at 3 p.m. Sunday.

“We had a rapid response on (floor) 5,” she said of her duties that day. “I went up the stairs with the nurse and did an EKG (electrocardiogram) (on the fifth-floor patient).”

By that time, the pressure in Bernard’s chest had intensified, and she went to her charge nurse on the cardiac-care unit with a request to leave because of her discomfort.

“I told her it felt like someone was standing on me,” she said. “She said I needed to go the ER immediately.”

When Monica first started working for CVPH, she was an emergency-medical technician in the Emergency Department. She was very familiar with the process of treating patients in the ER, and that familiarity caused some hesitance in her decision to go there for treatment.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. “Once I go (to the ER), I knew I’d have no more control.”

But her co-workers insisted, and she entered the ER around 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Test results confirmed what she had suspected all along: She had as many as six major blockages in arteries leading to her heart, several with more than 90 percent blockage.

Doctors at first contemplated bypass surgery but opted on placing four stents in the blocked vessels to restore blood flow and strengthen the vessels.

“I still had two blockages, but they decided to treat that with medication,” she said.


Her condition, which steadily progressed over the weekend, had reached its zenith, and Monica’s life was severely in danger by the time she agreed to go to the ER.

“Dr. (Timothy) Garrand (an interventional cardiologist at CVPH) told me I would have coded in the ambulance if they had transported me (from outside the hospital),” she said. “I was having a major heart attack; I’m glad the Cardiac Cath Lab was here.”

Monica had worked with many people suffering heart attacks while she was assigned to the ER, but now she says she can empathize with those who are going through what she experienced.


At 49, active and with no weight problems, Monica was not an ideal candidate for a heart attack. She quit smoking cigarettes in 2000 but began smoking cigars a few years later, a habit she admittedly will not return to.

“I had no family history of heart disease, no problems leading up to that weekend,” she said. “Everything seemed fine. I had no symptoms at all.”

Women will often present with vastly different symptoms of heart attacks than the commonly thought of severe chest pain that men usually experience. That is why women have to be especially conscious of changes they notice and take action when those changes first occur.

“Don’t blow it off,” she said, criticizing herself for not taking action that Friday evening when this all began.

Monica’s daughter, Cheyenne, 12, agreed and said she will make sure her mother does not hesitate to seek attention for medical concerns.

“Since she’s here (following the near-fatal experience), it makes me happy,” Cheyenne said, noting that everything began the day after her birthday.

Monica, who has not yet been cleared to return to work but is hoping to be back on the cardiac-care floor soon, chose to enter the health-care field as an older adult because she was fascinated with the field and wanted to help other people in need.

Now she realizes that she is no different than others who face major health issues, and she promises to practice what she preaches from this day forward.

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