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Surviving Loss and Finding Solace After a Spouse’s Heart Attack

By Dawn Picard, Senior Vice President of Operations for the Southeast Group


When Dawn Picard, Senior Vice President of Operations for the Southeast Group, and her husband, Jimmy, visited their primary care physician for their annual bloodwork and checkup in October of 2015, he told the both of them, “keep doing what you’re doing.” At 53 years old, they both were in great health and had no immediate concerns. Less than two months later, on December 4, 2015, Jimmy suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack – a heart attack appropriately called a “widowmaker.”

Telling my story

“Widowmaker” is the term used to refer to a serious heart attack occurring when a major artery in the heart is blocked and has a less than six percent survival rate if it occurs outside of the hospital.

An avid golfer, outdoorsman and weighing less than 180 pounds, Jimmy was not someone who looked like he had heart disease. He was out hunting when the heart attack occurred. In a location about 30 minutes from the nearest hospital, Jimmy called me when he began experiencing severe chest pain. I told him and his friend who was with him at the time to start driving to the hospital, and I would call the ambulance to meet them. But, by the time the ambulance arrived, it was too late. Within minutes of that call, he was gone. The next time my daughters and I saw him was in the hospital to say our goodbyes.

Embracing Jimmy’s legacy

To say Jimmy’s passing was sudden is an understatement. More than six years later, I still often find myself wondering how this happened to him, and to us. There have been many, many days where the grief feels overwhelming. What has helped tremendously is talking about him often and remembering that his legacy lives on with my children and grandchildren.

His legacy also lives on as a tissue and organ donor. Because Jimmy made it to the hospital fairly quickly, his tissues and organs were donated to three people throughout the state of Louisiana. Jimmy enhanced the lives of everyone around him, but knowing that he also had an impact on strangers’ lives is remarkable. I also was fortunate to be employed with TeamHealth at the time of his passing and was able to access the many grief support resources the company has to offer.

Caring for your heart means knowing your history

Today, I am sharing Jimmy’s story to inform others that a heart attack can happen at any age and at any fitness level. Many types of heart conditions are attributed to family history and genetics, and knowing your family history is as important as annual check-ups, knowing your numbers and prioritizing a healthy lifestyle. Severe heart attacks can often happen without any warning signs, and women are more likely than men to experience warning signs like shortness of breath, nausea and back or jaw pain.

Since Jimmy’s passing, his family, including his three brothers and three sisters are all more aware of their heart health and take steps to prevent the same from happening to them. Vigilance is the one true defense against a “widowmaker” heart attack. Know your body, and don’t hesitate to call your doctor or 911 if you are experiencing any warning signs of a heart attack. Most importantly, live each day to the fullest and enjoy the little things – that’s what Jimmy would tell us all to do.

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