'Not just an old man's disease': 45-year-old P.E.I. woman surprised by deadly heart problem

It started with some discomfort after dinner and an embarrassing visit to the emergency, but Angie MacAull believes her persistence in pursuing the problem saved her life.

'Everyone was taken aback by it'

Angie MacAull on May 8, 2017, the day of her discharge following open heart surgery. (Submitted by Angie MacAull)

It started with some discomfort after dinner and an embarrassing visit to the ER, but Angie MacAull believes her persistence in pursuing the problem saved her life.

She was 45 years old, and considered herself in good health, when the first symptoms appeared last spring.

I was humiliated that I would go into the ER for acid reflux.- Angie MacAull

"I went out for supper and I ate, and we were with a few nurses, and I started having this heaviness in my chest, right around my diaphragm area. I explained to them what was happening and they thought it was gall bladder," MacAull told CBC P.E.I.'s Island Morning.

She went to the emergency at Summerside's Prince County Hospital and they ran a variety of tests on her. They checked for a heart attack, but those tests came back negative. She was eventually diagnosed with acid reflux.

"I was humiliated that I would go into the ER for acid reflux," MacAull said.

"One thing the doctor said to me before I left was, 'If it happens again, come in. I don't mind being proven wrong.' I was very thankful that he said that."

A cancelled vacation

She was cleared to head out on Caribbean cruise she and her husband had planned for just a few days later. They flew to Miami, but during a dinner out before they got on the boat the symptoms returned, and much worse this time.

"I was on the floor crying, and my husband took one look at me and said, 'We're going home,'" she said.

Back at the Prince County Hospital, tests for a heart attack once again returned negative. Her sister-in-law, an ER nurse, suggested going for a walk. She tried some brisk walking, but there were no symptoms. Then she tried a light jog.

"I went into an attack again and my sister-in-law got me hooked up to an ECG and they caught it. All 12 leads showed depressions, which indicated something was wrong with my heart," she said.

She was put on bed rest until a dye test could be done. She still believed the problem was in her stomach, and was surprised when the dye test showed eight blockages in her heart, including a left main blockage, which is in the main artery feeding the left side of the heart.

'A second chance'

She required immediate open heart surgery: a triple bypass.

"I wasn't afraid. I felt I was in the right hands. I just wanted to get it over with and take it on," MacAull said.

We … have to be our own advocates.- Angie MacAull

"I had a second chance. Not a lot of people who have a left, main blockage, which they call a widow maker, they don't always get a second chance. They don't get advance warning. I was very, very thankful that I listened to my body and that I was persistent with returning to the hospital every time that this would happen."

MacAull said the incident has been a big lesson for her, and for everyone else involved.

"Everyone was quite taken aback by it. I do feel that it's an eye opener for our ER doctors, our specialists here, to realize that it's not just an old man's disease," she said.

"We also have to be our own advocates. If I had've been too embarrassed to return to the hospital or focused on the cruise that we walked away from — We were supposed to climb a waterfall in Jamaica — if I had've gone on that cruise and didn't listen to my body and the symptoms I was having, I wouldn't be here. I know that."

A new reason to be alive

Just three months after her surgery, MacAull was given a whole new reason to be happy to be alive. She adopted a baby.

Angie MacAull with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Brooklyn. (Submitted by Angie MacAull)

Given her newly discovered heart condition, it was something she had to put some thought into. But she realized if the opportunity had come up a year earlier she wouldn't have given a thought to her own health. And then, with a new baby in her life, she might not have been paying enough attention to heed the messages her body was giving her, and she could have died.

It's a lesson she intends to pass on to her new daughter.

"We all know our own bodies the best and we have to be more in tune with them."

With files from Island Morning