The Heart of a Woman

Until the mid-1980s, little attention was given to studying heart attacks among the female population. Middle-age and older men have them, right? Not 42-year-old women.

That’s how old Jayme Prenger was when she suffered what’s referred to as the “widowmaker,” on August 13, 2022. Even that terminology is indicative of a male bias. The widowmaker occurs when the left anterior descending artery – the one that provides 50% of the blood supply to the heart muscle – is 100% blocked.

There were signs, but Jayme’s weren’t the severe chest pain, sweating, and shortness of breath common in men. Brandi Zey-Thacker, Jayme’s nurse practitioner with Boone Health Primary Care in Boonville, says that symptoms in women tend to be unusual fatigue, indigestion-type pain, nausea, and pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, and upper back.

For two weeks prior to the attack, Jayme attributed her symptoms to work-related stress.

“I just thought that I was having indigestion, maybe an ulcer, and pain in my armpit area and hands because of the stress. And as a woman, I thought: ‘I don’t have time to deal with this.’”

“Women are natural caregivers, so they tend to ignore their symptoms and care for others before themselves,” Brandi explains. “Annual exams are so important and follow up even more so. You need to know your numbers. Blood pressure, heart rate, BMI, A1C, and cholesterol are all important numbers that need to be monitored regularly.”

Jayme and husband, Kyle, spent a weekend in Branson and Silver Dollar City with family. They even hiked several miles in the Arkansas peak area. Jayme admitted to getting a little short of breath but assumed that’s because she needed more exercise.

Jayme and her husband Kyle with their blended family: Alyssa, Oliver, Kyle, Jayme, Braden, Helena and Aidan.

A couple of days later, Jayme drove to Osage County to pick up Kyle’s kids from their grandparents. She once again felt indigestion-like discomfort in the middle of her chest, pain in her armpits and down her leg, and numbness in her hands.

“As I’m experiencing these things, I’m thinking I’m overweight. I’m out of shape – you know all the things I’m chalking it up to,” Jayme says. “But I’m driving on Highway 50 and I’m talking to myself saying, ‘Is this a heart attack?’”

But Jayme talked herself out of it. She had told Kyle about her symptoms over the past two weeks but didn’t talk to Brandi or anyone else about them.

“Anytime that you have some type of symptoms you don’t usually have that stick around or don’t improve, you should be evaluated,” Brandi says.

That Friday night, Jayme felt exhausted and confused. Later, her chest pain became so severe that she started taking antacids. “Chest pain,” Brandi says, “is a classic sign of a heart attack, but not always the case in women.”

Unable to get comfortable or sleep, Jayme went to her home office and worked through the night, still consuming antacids. She felt better when she walked Kyle out as he left for work at 6:30 a.m. that Saturday morning.

Around 7:15 a.m., Jayme felt dizzy and nauseous as she washed her hands in the bathroom. She vomited, then sat on the floor, unable to get up. Her phone was in her office. Her stepkids were down the hall, sleeping in. Jayme called out for Aidan, Kyle’s 16-year-old, to get her to urgent care.

Aidan helped Jayme to her car and got Kyle on the phone. But as they merged onto I-70, Jayme’s entire body hurt. Her brain wouldn’t work. Her speech slurred.

She felt herself sliding down in the back seat. She heard Aidan panicking while talking to Kyle who was now yelling because Jayme was no longer answering him.

“It was just so scary,” Jayme says, beginning to cry. “I was just thinking about all these things, and watching it happen outside of my body. And you can’t do anything to change it. You think, ‘What am I going to do? I have a family. I just got married. All these things in my life are supposed to be ahead of me.’”

Jayme and her step-son Aidan who drove her to the hospital.

Upon arrival at Boone’s emergency room, Jayme told Aidan to run in and tell them she was having a heart attack. That stopped Aidan in his tracks. “You are?”, he said. Aidan ran inside and quickly came out with a nurse who took Jayme into the hospital in a wheelchair.

Cardiology specialist Trung Tran, MD, took Jayme to the cardiac catheterization lab and threaded a stent through her groin, saving her life.

These days, Jayme is exercising more, eating healthier, and getting coaching to help her manage stress. She’s also telling her cautionary tale to other women who believe they’re too young to suffer a heart attack. In fact, she was nominated for Missouri’s Women of Impact for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women event for which she’s raising funds.

“It’s so important to see your doctor regularly,” Jayme says. “You’ve got to listen to your body. And if your gut says, ‘Gosh, this could be something,’ then just go to the doctor. Don’t think that it can’t happen to you.”

By Michelle Terhune