Portland cancer patient survives 9-week-long heart attack

Published: Mar. 21, 2023 at 10:25 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore (KPTV) - A Northeast Portland woman is sharing her story after suffering a major heart attack that she says lasted more than two months. Beven Byrnes, the mother of six-year-old twins, said if she didn’t trust herself that something was wrong, she could be dead.

Byrnes shared that she has been successfully battling cancer for the last two and a half years.

“So, it’s been a rough few years,” Byrnes says.

Recently, she said she was frightened with a different set of symptoms that started in early January when she came down with COVID-19.

”By Saturday that week,” she recalled, “I started developing a really intense chest pain, right in the center.”

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She explained that physical activity would cause the pain, even casual things like just walking to the bathroom. To ease it, she did everything much slower, something her kids called the “sloth walk, because I couldn’t do anything unless I did it really slow motion.”

Battling cancer with radiation treatment, she worried the symptoms could be caused by complications with her heart. She described that feeling as “shocking and scary.”

Fearful, she said she went and got herself checked out, and nurses thought the issue was COVID-related. She said she got some medication and left. However, the pain kept up and she had no choice but to go back.

“They’re like, ‘we don’t know what to tell you. Go back to ER and they’ll do some more tests,’” Byrnes said.

She recalled this went on for weeks. All the while, due to her complex medical history, she was doing her best to not scare her family.

“We believe in positive thinking,” she laughed. “We did a lot of, ‘this isn’t my heart. It’s going to be ok. It’ll just take time.’”

While doing her best to lead her normal life with the pain, she said she continued to go back and forth from the ER more than half a dozen times and saw 19 different medical professionals.

“Nothing helped. Not even a little bit,” Byrnes said. “It was an intense time for me emotionally, but life has to go on. I’m the mother of 6-and-a-half-year-old twins. I was really frustrated that I couldn’t get to the bottom of what was going on.”

She eventually recalled that she saw her primary care doctor, who she hadn’t seen in three years because of ongoing cancer treatment taking up her time.

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“She took me seriously and said, ‘I think this is your heart and we need to get you looked at immediately.’”

Within 24 hours, they learned it was serious. She explained that the doctor told her that the primary artery in her heart was nearly 100% blocked. She said she eventually learned her condition was called a windowmaker heart attack. According to her, it has rightfully earned its name.

“Because 12% or less of people survive it,” she said solemnly. “It often leaves a widow behind.”

She got in for surgery soon after and explained two hours later woke up to a doctor explaining what happened.

“That was the first time I heard ‘heart attack,’” she said surprised. She didn’t believe it but said the relief she felt was night and day.

“How in the world,” she said questioning her 19 visits with medical professionals, “after nine weeks? You absolutely have to be your own healthcare advocate right now. There’s too much room for things to fall between the cracks because there are not enough people doing it and the ones that are, are so overworked. It means potentially lives are lost and I think I’m really lucky that mine wasn’t.”

Byrnes’ twins describe their mother as “loving and a good mom.” Fittingly, they also say she is “true of heart.”

Byrnes hopes her story helps other people advocate for themselves when they think something is wrong medically. She wrote a blog documenting her experience.