Don’t ignore heart attack signs

The signs of a heart attack were there — chest pains, high blood pressure — but Roxane Bingham pushed them out of her mind, promising herself she’d see a doctor later.

Halftime in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 3, 2012, changed her life.

With LSU down 14-3 to Alabama that night, Bingham felt like someone had grabbed her heart and wouldn’t let go.

“That’s when I thought, ‘You’re going to die tonight. And you’re going to die in Tiger Stadium,’ ” Bingham said.

Bingham worked for a hospital and led weekly support groups for patients who had lived through life-changing medical events, but she hadn’t told anyone about her chest pains.

“My philosophy is if you say it out loud,” she said, “then you have to do something about it, and that makes it very real.”

Five weeks earlier the chest pains began.

She felt them at work marketing to doctors for Baton Rouge Rehabilitation Hospital. She would sit in her car, waiting for the pains to pass.

When she traveled to Gainesville, Fla., to watch LSU play the Florida Gators, she couldn’t walk up the steps to her seat in the stadium’s upper deck.

Two days before her heart attack, Bingham was leading a stroke survivors’ support group when a woman who had suffered two strokes confessed she did not take her medicine when she felt good.

“I’m giving her the big speech about how ‘You don’t have the right to decide to stop taking your medicine,’ ” Bingham said. “ ‘You feel good because you’re taking your medicine on a regular basis and you have to go to the doctor.’ This whole bit.”

But two weeks earlier, Bingham had stopped taking the blood pressure medicine she had just started.

She looked forward to the LSU-Alabama game for months. After tailgating at her church, The Chapel on the Campus, she walked a mile up Dalrymple Drive to the stadium. There, her chest pains returned.

During the first quarter of the game, Bingham yelled, clapped and screamed. In the second quarter, she could barely stand. At halftime, she stayed in her seat.

The pain in her heart grew worse. She prayed and decided she would tell her friend when she returned, but as the third quarter began, she decided to go find help.

“I still didn’t think I could have a heart attack,” she said.

Bingham walked out to the corridor, then doubled over in pain. A volunteer led her to the first aid station, where paramedics gave her an electrocardiogram.

On the ambulance ride to Baton Rouge General, the EMTs gave her nitroglycerin spray. She heard cheers as they left the stadium, so she asked the crew about the score. They were upset that she cared so much about the game, she said, but the driver had it on the radio. The Tigers were ahead.

A cardiologist at the hospital diagnosed her with two blocked arteries — one at 90 percent, one 100 percent. After two procedures — a heart catheterization and a stent to open up her artery and help restore blood flow — the doctor asked if she had any other questions.

“What was the score of the game?” she asked. He wouldn’t tell her. Bingham started crying because she knew the Tigers had lost.

After six weeks of rehabilitation, Bingham returned to work. She started exercising regularly and changed her diet. Before the heart attack, she hated exercise.

Now, she says, “exercise is equal to medicine. You have to take your medicine every day, and exercise is just as important.”

Since her recovery, Bingham feels more energetic. She tells her story in support groups and as a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, giving advice she wishes she had followed.

“Tell somebody,” she said. “When you tell a friend, they’re going to hold you accountable.”