Sara Hoffman was just 37 when she had a terrifying incident while trapped on a plane en route to her wedding in Mexico. Read her story and find out what she wants allwomen to know about taking care of their hearts.
On April 13, 2015, I was on a non-stop flight from Seattle to Cancun, heading to my destination wedding in Mexico. (My husband, Court, and I got engaged in February 2014 and had been planning the sunny beach wedding for a little over a year.) About four hours into the flight we got up to go to the bathroom. As we walked down the aisle to go back to our seats, I started having a very intense burning in the upper part of my chest. My left arm started aching and it felt like I had vice grips on my jaw. A heart attack crossed my mind because I was experiencing the symptoms you often hear about. But I was young and healthy and I wasn’t worried about my heart. I told myself, “Don’t go to the worst case scenario — you’re on an airplane.”
I told my husband to get my mom who was on the flight too. She used to work in the medical field so she instantly got a flight attendant after I told her my symptoms. My mom said, “I think you need to see if there’s a doctor on the plane.” Amazingly, there was a cardiologist on board.
He asked the flight attendant to give me aspirin and nitroglycerin pills (apparently they keep both of these on planes ) and put me on oxygen. He tried to take my blood pressure but was having a hard time hearing it. He called into a medical center on the ground as he monitored me.
After about 20 minutes, I could hear the staff and doctor start to talk about where we were in the flight path. We had just started flying over the Gulf. The attendant said, “If we’re going to land, we need to turn the plane around right now.” The flight attendant looked at me and waited for an answer. I responded: “You need to land the plane. I know something is wrong.”
We made an emergency landing in Louisiana. I knew people were going to think I was just having a panic attack; everyone saw me getting on the plane with my wedding dress. And I didn’t look like someone who was having a serious health problem. I figured people were going to make the assumption that nothing is wrong and that I was a bride having the worst case of cold feet ever. But something in my gut said that this was serious.
I was wheeled off the plane and into a waiting ambulance on the runway. We were about seven minutes from the hospital in Kenner, LA. Once there, I was taken into the ER and there were probably 10 to 15 people in the room, taking my clothes off, hooking me up to monitors and taking blood. It was chaos.
At that point, no one had said, you’re having a heart attack. I didn’t fully realize how bad the situation was until the cardiologist came in and said, “I need you to sign a consent form for an angioplasty.”
I panicked and asked “what for?” He said, “You’re having a heart attack.” Hearing someone confirm my worst fear was incredibly intense.
Within 15 minutes of being in the ER, I was taken into the cath lab. I had an angioplasty and a stent put into my left anterior descending artery, which is also known as the widow-maker. My heart stopped twice during the procedure so I had to be defibrillated. (The doctor told us later that if we hadn’t landed, I would have died on the plane that day.)
After we were in Louisiana for two days post-procedure, the doctor said my heart was pumping better and stronger than it was before the incident. My artery was 100% blocked or pretty close to it, so now, there was no reason not to continue on to our wedding. I definitely thought “Should we just cancel the whole thing?” but the doctors didn’t say that was necessary.
Next, we flew from Louisiana to Houston. I was not feeling well in Houston and asked for a medic in the airport. He checked my vitals and didn’t see anything wrong. As we were about to get on the plane again to fly from Houston to Cancun, we stood at the gate and I thought, “I don’t know if I can get on the plane.” I didn’t want to feel trapped on the plane again. But we eventually boarded and made it to Mexico.