One Woman’s Message after Surviving Heart Attacks

January 27, 2016

“I was supposed to take pictures at a wedding,” shares Amarillo photographer, Cissy Burch, 51. “But I didn’t know if I would be able to get out there.” Cissy looked through the window at the frozen landscape outside of her home. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and, though not usually a busy wedding day, it was the date one couple set for their nuptials as most of their family would be together following the holiday. “We had an ice storm and they said on the news, ‘Unless it is an emergency don’t get out.’”

As Cissy’s husband, Danny, went out to warm up the car, she knew something wasn’t quite right. “He couldn’t get the doors open to the car,” Cissy recalls. “Then finally the passenger door opened. I wondered though, if it was a sign not to go to the wedding. The whole time, I’m thinking, ‘what is this feeling in my chest?’”

Earlier that morning Cissy was listening to music while sitting in her rocking chair in the living room. “I had this sensation in my chest I’ve never had before,” she says. For the past few months, her shoulder had been bothering her. When she told Danny about the feeling in her chest, they both thought it was her shoulder pain. He walked over and rubbed her shoulder and the pain subsided.

“Then the burning fire sensation came back,” Cissy says of the pain in her chest. She started to wonder what was really going on. “I don’t go to the doctor. I take care of my kids, but I’ll admit that I didn’t always take care of myself.”

The feeling came and went throughout the morning. Yet despite the weather and how she was feeling, Cissy still thought she would go on with the original plan. “It’s a wedding,” she exclaims. “You don’t back out of a wedding!”

Her 16-year old son walked into the living room right when it hit. “It threw me to the floor and took my breath away,” Cissy says of the now-debilitating pain in her chest.  “I saw the look in his face and I wanted to help him deal with it. He was definitely scared.”

Danny called 911.

“I couldn’t think straight,” Cissy remembers. “I kept thinking if I could get my left arm in the right position, the pain would go away.”

The drive that normally took 20 minutes lasted more than an hour as Cissy felt the ambulance slip on the ice-covered streets. Paramedics notified the hospital they were bringing a patient who may have suffered a heart attack. “It was surreal,” says Cissy.

“They immediately did everything they needed to do,” Cissy says of arriving at the BSA Emergency Department. “I was amazed.”

Doctors and nurses worked quickly to assess Cissy’s condition. They called the cath lab team, preparing to send her for a heart catheterization.

Cardiologist Dr. Agustin Cabrera talked to Cissy and told her what to expect during the catheterization. Under fluoroscopy, real-time x-ray imaging, Dr. Cabrera discovered she had a 90 percent blockage in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery – known as the “Widowmaker.”

“He said, ‘We can fix this,’” Cissy recalls. “He told me how lucky I was. One nurse said, ‘Thank God you called the ambulance.’”

Meanwhile, Dr. Jon Haddad was traveling from across town to fix the blockage in Cissy’s heart. She knew that it would take a while, given the road conditions. The nurses by her side, Cissy says, helped comfort her while everyone waited in the cath lab.

“They kept talking to me,” she remembers. It was during that time Cissy and the nurses thought it would only be appropriate for the photographer to document this moment in her life. She shared this picture taken on her phone with the nurses who helped calm her fears during one of the scariest days of her life.

Dr. Haddad arrived in the cath lab and placed the life-saving stent to open the blockage in Cissy’s heart. In total, she had suffered six heart attacks that day.

“My husband said, ‘It was like everything went wrong so that everything could go right,’” she shares.

The wedding went off without a photographer. Cissy arrived at the hospital in time to save her life. A team of doctors, nurses and staff helped to treat and care for a patient who had suffered up to six heart attacks during an ice storm. It was a day Cissy will never forget and a day that changed her mind about her own health. “We can’t take care of our families, if we don’t take care of ourselves,” she adds.