Survivor of “widow-maker” heart attack warns new mothers of their increased risk

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Kisha Stewart while pregnant, seen with family and friends. Courtesy of Kisha Stewart

Cardiovascular incidents are the number one cause of death in new mothers. WINK News morning anchor Lindsey Sablan sat down with a woman who had a “widow-maker” heart attack two weeks after giving birth.

“It was my first night out since having my baby boy,” said Kisha Stewart. “I ended up being disoriented, lightheaded, feeling a little bit dizzy, skin was kind of clammy.”

Stewart had experienced a spontaneous coronary artery dissection—a widow-maker heart attack. Her left coronary artery was fully blocked and required a stent to fix it. But in the emergency room, the staff kept blaming anxiety.

“You just feel like you’re being completely crushed from the front to the back,” Stewart said. “I was very adamant about repeating my symptoms and letting them know, ‘No, this isn’t anxiety, this isn’t panic.'”

“Unfortunately, it is pretty common for a young woman who may be having cardiovascular symptoms to be seen in a light where it shows them to be maybe anxious or depressed rather than truly what they’re experiencing,” said Dr. Shona Velamakanni, a cardiologist with the NCH Heart Institute.

Velamakanni says Stewart’s case is unusual because she didn’t have risk factors. Typically, women who experience post-pregnancy heart issues have an undiagnosed heart condition that flares up during those 40 weeks. She worries about all women right now, because of the increased stress from the pandemic.

“Sometimes, problems that are brewing will come to light because of the pregnancy process,” Velamakanni said. “We don’t get as much sleep, which is restful and restorative. We tend to eat poorly because we’re stressed out.”

“Everything changed for me, I was scared to live,” Stewart said. “I have this newborn child that I’m supposed to be able to protect and love on and cuddle, have a bond with, and I couldn’t do that.”

Stewart experienced depression and PTSD after her heart attack. But now she’s no longer in danger of heart failure; she focuses on eating right, exercising and sharing her story so other women know their risks.

“It’s given me the opportunity to really look at my life and appreciate the second chance that I have, which not everyone gets,” Stewart said.

You can do your own risk assessment online at this link, where you’ll be asked to register and answer 18 questions.

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