Cheri Jones was attending a college football game almost 30 years ago when she started having difficulty breathing. Alarmed, her fiancé said, “You look like you’re having a heart attack.”
As it turns out, she was — but because the pain subsided, she went ahead with her day as planned, making a mental note to check with her doctor the following week. That’s when she learned one of her arteries was 100 percent blocked. The cause was a mystery at that time.
“I had no family history of heart disease,” she recalls. “It was out of the blue, which was scary and surprising because I didn’t expect it.” Cheri didn't have the classic male heart attack symptoms of crushing chest pain or pain shooting down her arm.
Looking back, however, she does remember a nagging ache in her shoulder blade that began a few weeks before the heart attack; she attributed that to her golf swing. Cheri’s doctors prescribed nitroglycerin, the standard treatment at the time. She married her fiancé, continued to work in pharmaceutical sales and took her medication as directed.
“It wasn’t until 15 or 20 years later that I had another heart issue,” she says. “This time I was lucky to go to Scripps, where my uncle worked as a cardiologist and was also very active in integrative medicine.”
That’s when Cheri met Scripps cardiologist Christina Adams, MD, who was completing her fellowship in integrative medicine. Dr. Adams, who specializes in women’s heart disease, has cared for Cheri’s heart ever since.
“She knows her stuff in and out, and that is very reassuring,” Cheri says. “She is very proactive with my health issues, answers all of my questions and is understanding and caring. I feel a kindred spirit with her.”
As new methods of diagnosing and treating heart disease evolved following Cheri’s first heart attack, she learned she has a very high level of Lp(a), a lipoprotein identified as a risk factor for coronary heart disease.
She has had several heart attacks, and Scripps interventional cardiologists have placed four stents in her arteries during the past decade. Cheri’s condition has stabilized; she checks in with Dr. Adams on a regular basis and calls any time she has a question or concern.
“It is vital for women to establish a relationship with a physician who understands women’s heart disease and can help them recognize the signs and risk factors,” says Dr. Adams, now a cardiologist at Scripps Women's Heart Center. “If you haven’t had one, start with a baseline examination, even if you think you are fine.”
Now a third-grade teacher, Cheri is healthy and active; her last catheterization exam in April, 2016 showed clear arteries. In addition to teaching full-time, she exercises at the gym, continues to play golf and spends time with her three stepchildren and 12 grandchildren.
Cheri strongly recommends that women have their heart health checked, even if they have no family history or symptoms of heart disease. “My symptoms were never clutching of the chest or gasping for air. With each heart issue, I had shoulder pain, lack of energy, a tingling in my jaw and numbness in my face,” she says, describing the subtle symptoms that often precede heart attacks in women.
“As women, we have a wonderful ability to rationalize everything that goes on with our bodies, like being tired or pulling a muscle. You don’t want to admit something is wrong with you, but it is so important for women to find out before something happens.”