WOODSTOCK, Ga. - In July of 2019, Katherine Callahan of Woodstock, Georgia, was stepping up her fitness game.
"I was exercising regularly, and I considered myself to be really healthy," Callahan remembers.
Then came July Fourth and a 5K road race.
Katherine Callahan was on the brink of a heart attack at 47 back in 2019. (Katherine Callahan)
Callahan, who was 47 at the time, was about a mile into the fun-run when something felt off.
"I just started to have chest pain and some numbness in my jaw," she says.
The pressure felt like heartburn, she says, but deeper, more intense.
"That was scary enough, but I've never had that feeling of numbness up here in my jaw," Callahan says.
She slowed down and tried to walk it off.
Then, the symptoms went away.
Running the next day, the chest pressure and jaw numbness returned.
"I think the most alarming experience was when I was asleep, and it woke me," she says. "I woke up with the chest pain and then numbness in my jaw. I knew something wasn't right."
But Callahan waited four days before going to the doctor because the idea she might be on the brink of a heart attack never crossed her mind.
Katherine Callahan began experiencing heart attack symptoms during a July Fourth 5K.
When she went in to get checked the following Monday, her doctor sent Callahan to see a heart specialist.
"The cardiologist put me in an ambulance and sent me straight over to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, where they did a heart catheterization," she says. "They found I had an 80% blockage in my left anterior descending artery."
The LAD is a large artery that supplies blood to the heart muscle. If it becomes completely blocked, it could cause her heart to suddenly stop. They call that a "widowmaker" heart attack.
Callahan was stunned.
"They actually found blockages in four arteries, which, still, even today, I'm just shocked by the whole experience," Callahan says.
Her artery was reopened with a stent, and Callahan is now on cholesterol-lowering medication, daily aspirin, and a blood thinner to lower her risk of another blockage down the road.
"That feels so crazy to me, that I came so close to having a heart attack, to having something that I might not have recovered from," she says. "And, I must have asked the doctor five times, 'What did I do wrong?'"
She learned heart disease can run in families and a woman's heart attack symptoms may not look or feel like a man's.
The American Heart Association says, while chest pain or pressure is a common heart attack warning sign in both sexes, women are more likely to experience more subtle, vague symptoms, including shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, and pressure in the upper back.
Jaw pain, like Callahan experienced, can be another heart attack symptom in women.
To read about women's heart attack warning signs, visit http://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack/heart-attack-symptoms-in-women.
Katherine Callahan now is gearing up for the 2020 Greater Atlanta Heart Walk and Run on Oct. 3, which will be virtual this year.
She will be walking with ADP, her employer, and Callahan will be part of another special group of participants: the survivors.
"I'm blessed to be a survivor," she smiles. "I'll take that title anytime."
To register for the 2020 Greater Atlanta Heart Walk and Run, go to http://www.metroatlantaheartwalk.org
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