Husband & Wife Experience “Widowmaker” Heart Attacks and Live to Tell About It.

Imagine surviving a lightning strike. Now imagine your spouse surviving a lightning strike several months later. That’s the rarity of the Greenbaums’ story. Except instead of having high-voltage electricity coursing through their bodies, they each survived a widowmaker heart attack within months of one another.

Robert Greenbaum was the first to survive the potentially deadly heart attack in September 2016. He remembers having symptoms of a heart attack – aching in his arm and pain in his chest – while at work.

“I was standing in the doorway of an office at work when my colleague asked if everything was alright. I said no and the next thing I know, I’m in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,” Greenbaum said.

Upon arriving at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, emergency physicians quickly recognized he was having a heart attack and called in Daniel Hermann, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Cardiology Memorial City. Dr. Hermann used a catheter to go through an artery in Greenbaum’s wrist and inserted a stent into his left anterior descending artery, often called the “widowmaker.”

“By using the radial artery to insert the stent, we reduce the risk of bleeding. When you go through the femoral artery, a patient has to lie on their back for several hours and have someone apply pressure to the insertion point to ensure that bleeding doesn’t start. Many patients prefer utilizing the radial artery because they are able to get up and move around as soon as the effects of the anesthesia wear off,” said Dr. Hermann.

Just seven months after Greenbaum’s heart attack, his wife, Dolores, would have her own near death experience, but in a very different way.

“Robert’s heart attack came on quick. For me, it began with pain in my upper back. I’d just started a new job that didn’t have a comfortable chair. I blamed my pain on that and kept going on about my business,” she remembered.

It would take several days before her pain would grow enough to motivate Dolores Greenbaum to call her primary care physician.

“My doctor had been so impressed by the care Dr. Hermann gave my husband that when I told him my symptoms, he directed me straight to him,” she said.

Dr. Hermann would go on to utilize the exact same procedure he performed on Robert Greenbaum, inserting a stent into Dolores Greenbaum’s widowmaker.

“I had never seen anything quite like it,” said Dr. Hermann. “For a couple to have nearly the exact same lesion in the exact same spot is unique. But they differentiated in symptoms, which I think serves as a reminder that heart attacks don’t always present with the same symptoms in a woman as they would a man.”

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), women often don’t experience heart attacks like men. The AHA says the most common symptom of a heart attack in men is chest pain, but women often experience symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.

“Heart issues can appear in a variety of different ways, which is why it’s so important to have regular check-ups with a primary care physician. They can evaluate your risk factors to see if you need to make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, or recommend you to a cardiologist who can help manage the disease,” said Dr. Hermann.

The Greenbaums say they feel very lucky and are now taking steps, together, to put their heart health first.

“We have a grandson who’s less than a year old. We want to be around to see him grow up, and any other grandchildren that may come along. We tried to eat healthy and be active before, but we’re serious now,” Dolores Greenbaum said.

At Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Memorial City, affiliated physicians and surgeons perform more than 11,000 heart procedures annually, providing the full spectrum of heart care – from medical therapy to advanced heart surgery. The Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS) recently awarded the Institute its highest rating of three stars for quality related to Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG), or heart bypass surgery, for the third time.

Find an affiliated cardiologist and schedule an appointment.


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Tashika Varma