Survivor hopes women take her story to heart

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Kelly Kleiner is grateful for every memory she makes with her family these days.

"I didn't know how bad it was. I really didn't know how bad it was," Kelly says as she recalls the day after Christmas 2016.

Kelly, her husband Matt, and their two daughters headed for an evening skiing in Weston, Missouri. Kelly laughs, recalling how Matt kept falling down. She even recorded one of his spills - not realizing she was capturing the final moments before her life changed forever.

"I was trying to help him up but I felt like I pulled my shoulder out of socket," Kelly said. "I didn't want to tell them because I wanted them to enjoy the rest of the time."

As they ate dinner in the lodge, Kelly started feeling nauseous and hot. She excused herself to the restroom.

"I started taking off all of my layers (and) I was still hot. Well, the floor was cold, so I laid on the floor. I could not relax or cool off," she said.

Her daughters came to check on her, and someone finally summoned the ski patrol medic, who insisted she go to the ER in Atchison.

"I said, 'I'll let them ski for a while and then on the way home we'll do it,' and he said, 'No I think you should go now. (The ER staff) hooked me up to an EKG and knew within probably two minutes that I was having a massive heart attack," Kelly said.

She was flown to Stormont Vail in Topeka, where they realized her heart attack was unique. Dr. Thomas Doyle of Cotton O'Neil Heart Center said it also was scary because it was a type that happens without warning.

"Typically, what we see is actually those plaques get bigger and bigger and bigger, and the vessel gets smaller and smaller, and then people will develop progressive symptoms slowly over time," Doyle said. "In her case, she just had this plaque that ruptured and it just immediately closed the blood vessel."

Doyle says no one knows exactly why the spontaneous ruptures occur. That's why it's vital woman know what can often be their obscure warning signs - like the pull Kelly felt in her shoulder - and don't brush them off.

"(Woman may) have jaw or tooth discomfort. They'll say my arm aches, maybe have an upset stomach," Doyle said. "Time is muscle. Every hour that goes by that the heart doesn't get more blood flow, that part of the heart will begin to die and turn to scar tissue."

Kelly's rupture left her heart starved of oxygen for four and a half hours.

"I had no clue. I expected a pressure in my chest," she said. "I was young. I was 40. That wasn't gonna happen to me at 40."

Doyle says Kelly's actions aren't unusual for women, who often are more inclined to worry about others. The American Heart Association says, every 80 seconds, a woman will die from cardiovascular disease.

Kelly says she realized how true that is when she realized her fellow patients in cardiac rehab were all older men. She asked the nurse if perhaps she was scheduled at a different time than other women. The nurse told her no - it's simply that women are less likely to survive their first heart attack.

Doctors inserted stents to reopen Kelly's artery. She also has a pacemaker and defibrillator. But she says the damage to her heart muscle has left her unable to return to her work as an educator.

"I can do most things. I just have to take it a little bit slower than I ever did, and that's a little bit hard to get used to," Kelly said.

Still, she's grateful to help make the message stick with other women, and that's she still around to share it.

"Everyone says that it could be your last moment, don't take things for granted, but you don't think about it until...it's a second chance," she said.

You can raise awareness and help fight heart disease at the American Heart Association's "Go Red" fundraiser. It's from 4 to 7:30 pm Tuesday, Dec. 11, at Topeka's Capitol Plaza Hotel. Find details and get tickets at www.heart.org/TopekaGoRed.