Knowing heart attack symptoms can save your life

January 08, 2016
Cam Kennedy

Letting fear of embarrassment get the best of you can be deadly, especially if it means avoiding the ER despite chest pains or other, less familiar, heart attack symptoms.

Some resist a trip to the ER for what could turn out to be a minor ailment; others don't want to be a "bother."

Edward Parker, MD, an emergency physician in the Edward Plainfield Emergency Department, says, "We've seen heart attack patients who insisted their chest pain was 'just heartburn,' despite having already swallowed a whole bottle of Mylanta with no relief."

But others with dangerous symptoms are simply unaware that not every heart attack brings crushing chest pains.

On February 5, 2015, Plainfield resident Cam Kennedy, 58, came home from his workday as a McDonald's owner-operator. He blamed his earlier workout for his fatigue and upper body stiffness.

"But when my jaw started to hurt my wife said, 'We're going to the ER,'" says Kennedy.

They went to the nearby Edward Plainfield ER where Kennedy was seen by Dr. Parker, who ordered an EKG (electrocardiogram), which confirmed Kennedy had experienced a heart attack.

The diagnosis set in motion a process that streamlines the time from the heart attack diagnosis at the Plainfield ER to the patient's arrival at the cardiac cath lab at Edward Hospital in Naperville. The on-site ambulance crew is notified, as are the hospital cardiologists and the cath lab staff, who immediately prep the lab for a procedure.

But as the paramedics were moving Kennedy from the ER bed to the transport gurney, he went into cardiopulmonary arrest. One of the paramedics began CPR and an ER team administered the necessary drugs. Kennedy was resuscitated and transported to Edward Hospital for an angiogram.

"He was lucky his wife brought him in when she did,” says Dr. Parker. “Otherwise he might not have made it."

Sharon Cline, MD, interventional cardiologist with DuPage Medical Group, performed a procedure which showed 100 percent blockage in one of the coronary arteries. She displaced the blockage by inserting a balloon-tipped catheter, inflating the balloon to move aside the plaque, and inserting a stent to help keep the artery open.

Kennedy’s heart attack was on Thursday and he didn't wake up until Saturday.

"The mental part of this whole experience was the hardest,” he says. “I'm an ex-athlete, and I'm the dad. I'm not supposed to be dying. It was embarrassing.

"I give a lot of credit to the paramedics and the teams at the Plainfield ER and Edward Hospital. I couldn't be more grateful."

A follow-up echocardiogram showed Kennedy had minimal heart damage.

He says, "I'm now walking our three-mile lake path with my wife and golfing three or four times a week without a cart."

If you suspect that you or a loved one is having heart attack, call 9-1-1. Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

Chest pain, which can be anywhere in the chest. It may be pressure, squeezing sensation or stabbing pain.

  • Shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body – back, jaw, arms, neck or stomach
  • Pounding heart or changes in heart rhythm
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sleep problems

To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take Edward-Elmhurst Health’s free five-minute test at For more information about Edward-Elmhurst Health cardiac care, visit