Her dramatic heart attack at age 46 inspired over 80 people to get their hearts scanned
photo by: Lauren Fox
Something in the back of the 46-year-old’s mind told her to Google the symptoms of a female heart attack.
Angie Loving woke up on the morning of Nov. 14, 2019, with heartburn, but figured it was just another stage of aging. And she’d had pizza and red wine the night before, she reminded herself.
The Lawrence resident felt fine at work throughout the day, but as she waited in the lobby of her eye doctor’s office that afternoon, she became light-headed and nauseated and had to sit down. Then, the heartburn came back.
That’s when the inner voice reminded her, “You know, someone told me heartburn was a sign of a female heart attack.” So she looked up the symptoms online.
“I looked at it and I’m like, ‘No, this is ridiculous,'” Loving said. “I don’t have a family history. I’m not overweight. I exercise all the time. I eat a low-fat diet. None of these things make sense.”
Then, the pain went away — but not for long. As Loving exited her eye doctor appointment and got back in the car, the symptoms returned. It was around 5:30 p.m., and Loving’s regular physician’s office was closed. She was planning on going on a trip the next day on a plane, so she decided to drive to the emergency room at LMH Health “and have them tell me I’m crazy,” she said.
But Loving didn’t make it. She lost consciousness while driving, veered across all the lanes on Sixth Street and ended up in the bushes by a gas station parking lot. (She did not hit any other cars or injure anyone on the street.) When Loving regained consciousness, she started vomiting. A Lawrence police officer happened to view the scene and came up to ask if she was OK.
“No, call 911,” Loving said. “I’m having a heart attack.”
What Loving experienced that day, she later discovered, was a widowmaker heart attack.
Widowmaker heart attacks are caused by complete blockage of the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, which transports a large amount of blood into the heart, according to Healthline Media. It’s called a widowmaker, Loving said, because it often kills, leaving the partner of the deceased alone.
But because of the quick action and care Loving received at LMH Health and the University of Kansas Hospital, she’s alive to tell her story, and is now married to the man she was engaged to at the time of the heart attack.
Loving spoke to the Journal-World via Zoom on Tuesday and at her new home in Olathe on Thursday. Loving, an associate director in human resources at KU, moved to Olathe following her marriage, but had previously lived in Lawrence for 24 years. She hopes that sharing her story will help others avoid a similar disaster.
“I think you need to be an advocate for your own health,” Loving said. “You need to ask questions. If you’re not feeling right, listen to what you’re thinking, because it’s probably right.”
Recovery and a ‘second chance’
On the day of Loving’s heart attack, emergency medical personnel arrived on the scene and took her directly to a catheterization laboratory at LMH Health. There, a cardiologist immediately put in three stents “and saved my life,” Loving said.
Loving was then taken to the University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, Kan., where she was put on life support and her family was told she would need a heart transplant. At one point, the support machine failed, and two people had to manually operate it until a technician could come fix it.
Sam Abadir, Loving’s husband, said there were a lot of unknowns at that time — “and then there was a lot of guilt praying for a new heart.”
But “oddly enough,” Loving said, her own heart started working again after about a week, and she was able to get off life support.
“I really think that there was a reason why I was given a second chance, because all of the odds were not in my favor to get one,” Loving said.
Loving stayed in the hospital for over a month as part of her recovery. She had to relearn how to eat, speak, sit up and walk. When she was put on life support, she suffered a brachial plexus injury, which cut the nerves in her right arm. To this day, Loving is still working on regaining her motor functioning.
When she was working to get out of acute care rehabilitation at the KU hospital, Loving’s goal was to be able to walk in heels. Abadir, her fiancé at the time, wanted to get married as soon as possible. Loving said he told her that the worst thing in life would have been to have missed his chance to marry her.
Loving and Abadir got married on Leap Day in 2020. On Thursday, Abadir said every day of Loving’s recovery has been a win.
“The tough thing is when Angie doesn’t realize how well she’s done,” he said, stopping to wipe tears from his eyes.
Loving is still facing medical challenges as a result of the heart attack. She has a noncancerous tumor on her lung that occurred as a result of being on life support and ventilators for a long time. So now she is on medication and receives infusions three times a week in an effort to shrink it.
Doctors discovered the tumor after Loving tripped while walking her dogs and broke some of her ribs. She was told that if the tumor on her lung hadn’t been discovered, her lungs could have collapsed.
“So, you know, I guess there was a reason I tripped over the dogs and broke all those ribs,” she said.
Loving said she’s been learning how to be patient with herself. She called the recovery process “humbling,” especially because she was used to being busy, driven and constantly on the go. Now, she has a newfound appreciation for even the simplest tasks in life: walking up the stairs by herself or getting up to see the weather outside. It has also given her greater appreciation of her loved ones.
“This is personal and hard, but I know I died. It all went white. It was super quiet,” Loving said of her experience after regaining consciousness on Sixth Street that day. “And I came back and it was super hard to see everything that you would have missed if the other would have happened.”
‘Get your heart scanned’
When Loving was in the hospital, friends and family members wanted to drop off food or send flowers, but instead, Loving’s mom and Abadir asked everyone to go get their heart scanned.
More than 80 people got their hearts scanned in Loving’s honor, and Abadir said that around a dozen discovered they had heart disease or other issues. One person was not permitted to leave the hospital after the scan.
Myria Covault, a former colleague of Abadir, said she made an appointment to get her heart scan immediately after receiving the suggestion from Abadir.
“Sam and Angie truly care about everybody,” Covault said. “I knew it was sincere when Sam asked us to do that, and I thought it was fantastic — that he thought about us at a time when he didn’t know whether his fiancée would live.”
Covault’s heart scan revealed that she had two blockages. Now, she gets her heart scanned every March.
Loving encourages everyone to find time for mindfulness and relaxation to appreciate life. She still doesn’t know what caused her heart attack, but the only thing she thinks could have contributed to it would have been stress.
“You never know what you had until it’s taken away, and it’s a hard fight to get back,” she said. “So go get your heart scanned if you can and live healthy and enjoy those that are around you — and the sunset.”
Loving is a volunteer for Lawrence’s Go Red for Women luncheon through the American Heart Association. The event, which will be virtual this year, is a fundraiser for heart research and education efforts. This year, the free event is on Feb. 19 from noon to 1 p.m. For more information about the event, contact Shelli Jaye at Shelli.Jaye@heart.org.
According to the American Heart Association, one in every three women dies of heart disease, and it’s the leading cause of death for women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is also the leading cause of death for men.
Loving said that after her heart attack, she lived cautiously at first. But now, she said, she lives optimistically.
“I look forward to the future. I don’t know what it holds for me — does anyone?” she asked. “I just know that every day I get is one day more than I had. So I’m going to enjoy it for what it’s worth.”
Symptoms of a heart attack
According to the American Heart Association, the most common symptom of a heart attack is chest pain. Women are more likely to experience some of the other common symptoms of a heart attack, particularly shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain. Visit heart.org for more information from the American Heart Association.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that a cardiologist put the stents in, not a surgeon.