Teri Michael

3/1/2012

Like many women with a demanding job and a busy home life, Ellensburg's Teri Michael had no time for a heart attack.

Then life served up a surprise to prove otherwise.

When Michael began experiencing shortness of breath in 2010, she attributed it to asthma. When she developed a "burning pain" high in her chest, Michael - occupied with responsibilities - still didn't see a doctor.

Then came Friday, June 25, 2010, a hectic day at the office of ResCare HomeCare, where Michael, then 54, worked long hours as branch manager. "I had three phones going but I could hardly talk because I was so out of breath," she recalls. Pressure built in her chest. At 3 p.m., she surrendered, hung up the phone and put her head on her desk. "I can't do this anymore," she said.

Tests at KVH Internal Medicine were negative. But there was no mistaking the worry on Dr. Jamin Feng's face when he advised her that if she got worse she should go to the Emergency Department at KVH Hospital.

The next day, Michael stopped at Fred Meyer, then headed to Precision Ag Repair to pick up a tractor part for her husband. "I pulled up and couldn't get out of the truck," Michael says, recalling how she sat slumped over the steering wheel as a woman approached, insisted she take an aspirin and called Michael's husband Carl who rushed her to the emergency room.

Even as Michael took tests, got oxygen and was given nitroglycerine to ease her pain, the enormity of what was unfolding escaped her. "Someone said, 'Get the cath lab (at Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center). Get an ambulance,'" Michael says.

She turned to her husband. "Wow," she recalls saying. "Someone is really sick."

It was her.

Dr. David Frick, medical director of the KVH Hospital Emergency Department, didn't mince words: She needed to be at Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center. What followed became a blur.

Doctors implanted a stent, a small tube used to treat narrowed arteries, on the right side of her heart. But there was worrisome news as she was coming out of the catheterization lab: "I was told that I had the worst case scenario, a blockage of the left anterior descending artery, and that it could not be stented.  I would have to have a coronary artery bypass graft - but I was too young for that," Michael says.

Fast forward to this past November.

She was scheduled for some testing after Thanksgiving. Even so, on Thanksgiving Day she cooked dinner for her family. The back spasms began later. By Friday, she was having spasms in her neck. A nitro pill made the pain go away. But by Sunday the pain had moved to her jaw. She took more nitro. On Tuesday, she saw a medical provider in Yakima who told her she was experiencing "unstable angina" and needed to go to the hospital immediately.

But Michael, who also teaches online classes for Colorado Technical University, had grades due. She drove to Ellensburg to get her laptop, stopped at Les Schwab to pay a bill and picked up a prescription at Bi Mart for her daughter. Woozy, gray-faced and experiencing jaw pain, she drove to Central Washington University where her husband was working. Her speech was slurred. She could barely walk. Once again, Carl rushed her to the hospital.

In the emergency room at KVH Hospital, Dr. Frick stabilized her and arranged transport to Yakima. The next morning in Yakima's Regional's catheterization lab she got the news she'd dreaded: The blockage had progressed to 85 percent. Michael was on the verge of a heart attack.

Michael's cardiologist was out of town but Dr. Pareena Bilkoo, a visiting cardiologist from Florida, was covering for him. Three hours of surgery later, she was on the road to recovery.

Soon after returning home, Michael wrote a letter to Heather Paul, director of the Foundation at KVH, offering to become a spokesperson. "I feel like I must still be here for a purpose. I need to tell women, in particular, what to look for in a cardiac crisis," says Michael, who believes care she received at KVH Hospital was critical in saving her life. "They moved quickly, did everything they were supposed to do, knew where I needed to go and got me there quickly," she says. "They do what is best for the patient - period. To have that philosophy as an organization is huge."

Now working from home doing medical coding, Michael also is pursuing a doctorate in management from Colorado Technical University. "It's important for me as I am not willing to give up," she says. "I have too much living to accomplish. If I'd had another heart attack, I wouldn't be here now.

"Live every day to your fullest because it could be your last because you just never know - whether it's having a heart attack or being hit by a Mack truck. Take time to listen to your body and don't disregard things. We have experts here at KVH who are great. Don't be afraid to check things out."

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