HIGHLAND — A brisk morning in January, Stephanie Sobotka of Highland was just leaving her house to play tennis when she started experiencing severe back pain and her arms were going numb. Her first thought was she was having a stroke, but it was in fact a heart attack.
Heart attack is the leading cause of premature death in women and men, but often the first sign that anything is wrong is sudden death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a healthy 39-year-old, a heart attack was the last thing Sobotka expected.
“I would have thought it would be severe chest pain, and I had no chest pain,” she said.
Sobotka's cardiologist, Dr. John Mitchell of Intermountain Healthcare's Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo said heart attack symptoms in women are often not what you'd expect.
“Back pain, abnormal pain, nausea, vomiting, even fatigue," he said. "They don’t have the class male, Hollywood kind of heart attack, the crushing chest pain.”
Just one day later, Sobotka was recovering from an open-heart surgery to bypass heart arteries restricted by 90 percent from high cholesterol.
She knew runs in her family.
“I had been tested for cholesterol years ago and knew that my cholesterol was high, but I just felt fine," she said.
Mitchell says if there’s a family history of elevated cholesterol, diabetes or obesity, those patients need to schedule a visit to their physicians and pursue both lifestyle and medical changes.
Spurred by her experience, Sobotka is helping spread the word about heart health awareness and staying active. This spring the Race for Red 5K provided one recovery milestone.
“It was four months to the day that I had my heart attack," she said. "I think there were 25 of us there from my family to support me.”
Sobotka said, “it’s hard to think about what could have happened. It really is a miracle that I’m here today, and I’m just so grateful.”
Her story is a sobering reminder to "know your number." See a physician to learn if your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are a cause for concern, and action. That knowledge, combined with regular exercise, a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and not smoking can keep the silent killer from paying you an unexpected visit.