IN December 2018, what started as heartburn within minutes became mortally serious for Sharon Kort.
She began to lose feeling in her arms while filling her car with petrol after a hard gym session.
“By the time they were making my coffee I was dry reaching; the lady behind the counter said I was grey [and] really dripping in sweat,” Mrs Kort said.
“She just mouthed ambo to me and I just remember nodding.”
In the ambulance, paramedics tried to fix monitors to her skin but the sweat was so profuse that nothing would stick.
“Even then I was thinking oh this is a bit dramatic,” she said.
“Then I heard the word MICA team and I knew I was in trouble.”
MICA, Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance paramedics, are highly trained and experienced medical professionals with a high clinical skill set who can perform more advanced medical procedures.
“I had what they call a widow-making heart attack but because it all happened so quickly the doctor was able to put a stent in,” Mrs Kort said.
“I had no other blockages nothing, I still had low blood pressure, low cholesterol; so for me, it was family history.
“I had no idea that this was pending.”
Nearly half a million Australian women at high risk of a heart attack or stroke are not on necessary medications, prompting a fresh plea not to put off check-ups during COVID-19 restrictions.
The Heart Foundation warns 445,000 women who could be a ticking time bomb for a heart event are not being treated with both the recommended blood pressure and cholesterol drugs.
More than one in three high-risk female patients, nearly 228,000, are on neither medication.
New modelling by the heart health charity reveals what’s at stake if this treatment gap continues.
The figures show up to 21,200 heart events could be prevented over the next five years if these 445,000 women aged 45-74 were treated with both blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications.
Furthermore, this move could avoid close to $300 million in hospitalisation costs alone.
Heart Foundation director of health strategy Julie Anne Mitchell says the treatment gap could spare thousands of Australian women from the physical, emotional and financial toll of a heart attack or stroke while reducing ongoing pressure on the healthcare system.
“A common misconception is this is a disease that only affects older men, but the reality is cardiovascular disease accounts for one in four female deaths,” Ms Mitchell said.
This can be a lethal stereotype, with women being less likely to discuss heart health with their GP than men and slower to act on warning signs of a heart attack.
At the time of her heart attack, Mrs Kort displayed no health indicators and continued a fit, active lifestyle, and attributed the heartburn to a new role at work and associated brain drain.
“Women in particular need to pay more attention, to be particularly vigilant,” Mrs Kort said.
“They always say don’t go through the what-ifs but they make you do the what-ifs in the first week of rehab.
“The what-if for me was 20 minutes later I would have been driving at 100 k’s up the freeway.
“Two hours later I would have been on my daughter’s farm out at Shelford and there would have been a whole difference.
“It would have been a helicopter and I may not have survived that.”
Ms Mitchell says the biggest concern is that women often fare worse after a heart attack and are less likely to be prescribed medications to manage their condition or attend cardiac rehabilitation.
“Australians are understandably worried about COVID-19, but heart disease doesn’t stop during a pandemic,” Ms Mitchell said.
“That’s why we’re asking women aged 45 and over, and Indigenous women from age 30, not to delay seeing their GP for a Heart Health Check.
“If you’re living with heart disease, it’s vital that you continue to monitor your heart health and keep up regular appointments with your doctor.”
From Sharon Kort, the message is clear.
“My message is for women, but anybody needs to go and get checked particularly now, don’t be scared of going to the doctor,” she said.
“Put your mask on, go get vaccinated and then you can check your heart, that’s it.”
Elliot is a freelance print and radio journalist with a passion for experimental radio fiction, podcasting and international affairs.