Is It Your Stomach—Or Your Heart?

Hidden heart symptoms

Calista Davis thought she had indigestion.

A dynamic human resources professional who works for the San Diego County YMCA, Davis is naturally high-energy and loves travel, exploring and hiking. In early 2011, walking the hills of San Francisco with a physician friend, she found herself breathless and had to stop, telling her friend she thought she might be allergic to a drink she’d just finished.

“My friend told me she didn’t think I was much of a doctor,” Davis remembers. “She made me promise to get my heart checked when we got home again.”

From diagnosis to surgery in hours

Davis was referred for a routine angiogram at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

“I’ve done 12,000 angiograms, but what happened that day was extraordinary,” says Jerrold Glassman, MD, who was performing the procedure. “Calista’s left main coronary artery was heavily damaged and almost completely closed off. The tiny procedure catheter completed the coronary blockage.”

Davis’s heart failed. For the next three hours, a team of physicians, technicians and specialists fought to keep her alive, using electric shock to resuscitate her 23 times.

And yet, Davis and her physicians consider her lucky.

“She would have had a fatal heart attack if we had not found her condition during that angiogram,” Dr. Glassman continues. “Had the same thing happened outside a hospital setting, Calista would not have survived.”

Faith, love and the healing heart

In addition to gratitude for the extraordinary team of physicians, surgeons, technicians, nurses and ancillary staff who cared for her, Davis also attributes her recovery to the power of prayer and faith.

“The whole YMCA was praying for me,” she says. “And there was marvelous spiritual care at Scripps Mercy Hospital. One day a young priest came to see me in my room. We talked for a good while about faith as a relationship with God, and my struggles with some Church teachings and doctrine in recent years. On his way out of the room, he asked, ‘Do you think you’re good with God?’ and I said, ‘Our relationship is great! We talk and argue all the time.’ He offered me communion, which touched me profoundly.”

Davis still marvels that she received 23 rounds of resuscitating shocks. "I asked Dr. Glassman why they kept going, because when I watch TV, they do that three times at most,” she says, her sense of humor always at the forefront. “But he told me he’s been in the business a long time, and he could tell I never really left the room.”

Sharing her story

Dr. Glassman gives Davis a lot of credit for her recovery. “Her attitude is amazing—it was tremendous both before and after these events. Calista is a very special person. I think if there’s such a thing as willing yourself to live, that’s exactly what she did.”

Davis and her family returned to Scripps Mercy Hospital late in 2011 and shared their story at physician grand rounds, along with Dr. Glassman and the other physicians who were involved in her care.