Working out three times a week, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are all characteristics of someone you would never think to have a heart attack. For forty-one-year-old Erika Livingston, that assumption was wrong.
Livingston owns a hair salon and helps her husband with their air conditioning company. Before her heart attack, Erika said she was going through life at a fast pace.
“My life before my heart attack was going two hundred, three hundred miles per hour,” Livingston told The Dallas Express.
Prior to June 30, the day she had her heart attack, Livingston noticed that her breathing had become irregular. She said it became difficult to breathe while she was doing her normal exercise routine. While taking a hiking trip with her friends, she barely kept up with everyone else.
At that point, Livingston did not think it was serious enough to contact a doctor.
Then there came a tipping point where she had no choice but to listen to her body. During a morning workout, Erika felt sharp chest pains, but they went away in the afternoon.
“I started walking around the house, trying to shake it off, and then I got cold. I got really, really cold,” she told The Dallas Express.
Erika recalled waking up around 3 a.m. with back and chest pain too unbearable to shake off. She thought her autoimmune disease, Scleroderma, had begun to flare up. However, when she started dripping with sweat, she yelled for her husband and told him they needed to go to the hospital.
They arrived at Texas Health Hospital in Rockwall. After Livingston described her symptoms, doctors set her up for an EKG. The results showed Erika was having a heart attack. Livingston said she was shocked.
“I’m forty-one. I work out all the time. There’s just no possible way,” Livingston said.
Originally, they wanted to send her to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas by helicopter, but weather conditions prevented that. Instead, they took her by ambulance.
As they were driving to the hospital, a “women pulled out in front of the ambulance,” causing an accident. Livingston said they waited fifteen minutes for police officials to arrive before continuing to the hospital.
Luckily, they were able to treat Erika in time despite the delay from the crash.
“My main artery was shut by seventy-five percent,” said Livingston to The Dallas Express. Doctors were able to see this by using a catheter to enter through her groin area and take pictures of what was going on with her heart.
“Mrs. Livingston’s left anterior descending (LAD) artery was severely blocked, but thankfully, she didn’t sustain any significant damage to her heart muscle,” said Kenneth Saland, M.D., an interventional cardiologist on the Texas Health Dallas medical staff.
Livingston said when she woke up from the procedure, her husband Jack explained that her autoimmune disease had worsened after she caught COVID-19 last December.
Her heart attack occurred because her autoimmune disease was squeezing her organs.
“She has an inflammatory disease called Scleroderma and diseases like that, like rheumatoid arthritis, Scleroderma, lupus, these types of things, they’re inflammatory states and they are another risk factor for heart disease,” Dr. Saland said.
Livingston said she was aware of the potential for this to happen but that it had never been a problem until after she had COVID.
“She was a young, otherwise healthy person. She’s in good shape and she had a heart attack, and so you’re like, ‘Well why did this happen?’ Her only major risk factor would be the inflammatory disease,” said Dr. Saland to The Dallas Express.
“That’s why this case is unusual. She’s a very young, active, healthy person and had a heart attack. [It] kind of illustrates that it can happen. One has to be very on top of their symptoms, making sure that you don’t ignore certain symptoms.”
Erika was able to go home with a few days after the procedure.
After her health scare, Livingston says the hectic, fast-paced lifestyle she once knew has slowed down tremendously. She made a change in her beauty salon, switching to booth rentals to alleviate some of her daily stress.
“I’ve just learned how to handle stress better. I don’t stress as much as I normally do,” said Livingston.
She said the most important lesson imparted from all of this was realizing the importance of self-awareness. She emphasized that when your body is giving you signs, you should listen.
“Physically, what you look like on the outside doesn’t mean anything on the inside,” she said. “You never know what’s happening on the inside. That’s my life, mission, and goal now, to bring awareness to people.”
“Listen to your body. Your body will tell you everything.”