Fargo woman’s intuition results in lifesaving care at Essentia

February 12, 2024  By: Caitlin Pallai

bride and groom standing with family

February is American Heart Month

Brenda LeNoue was home alone when she began to experience pressure in her chest.

"It felt like someone was pressing with their fist," explained the 56-year-old Fargo resident.

The pain wasn't excruciating, but LeNoue also felt it on the right side of her neck and down her right arm. Concerned, she called her husband, Kenny, who was deer hunting. 

He immediately called their daughter, Danielle, who took LeNoue to the emergency room at Essentia Health-Fargo. She was admitted right away and monitored closely. Initial diagnostic results were normal, but the pressure persisted, even with pain medication.

husband and wife posing for a photo in a carriage

"The care that I received in the ER was honestly fantastic," said LeNoue. "They explored every avenue and asked me all the right questions, even when the results were inconclusive, before going into something more invasive."

Repeated bloodwork showed her troponin level was rising. Troponin is released into the blood when the cells in your heart are injured — like when your heart isn't getting enough oxygen — and can indicate a heart event. An abnormal echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, quickly prompted an angiogram, a diagnostic procedure that uses X-ray images to look for blockages in the heart's blood vessels. Three blockages were found — one at 80% and two at 40%. Cardiologist Dr. Brian Grondahl placed a stent, a small wire mesh tube, to prop open the artery that was 80% blocked.

LeNoue continues to navigate the recommendations of her cardiac rehab team, which include a change in diet, medication and increased exercise. Her three-month follow-up is this month.

"My father had a heart attack at 48, so I knew of heart issues in my family history, but I didn't realize how much that really played into my health," she explained. "He was a smoker, so I attributed his heart disease to that, but I heard more than once from my doctors that a large part of concern for me was due to heredity."

Diligent in her annual exams and cholesterol checks, LeNoue recalls that outside of occasional chest pressure and hot flashes, which she attributed to being premenopausal, she didn't really have warning signs or symptoms.

"Based on everything we see and hear, it's a pain down your left arm and an excruciating pain in your chest," she said. "That's not what I experienced. It was a pressure, and maybe that's where men and women are so different."

LeNoue has since shared her experience with other women in her life.

husband and wife posing for a photo

"Listen to your body, listen to your gut," she said. "At first, I thought, 'This is nothing,' but maybe I had an angel on my shoulder who was like, 'No, this is something more serious.'"

When to seek care

Patients should consider seeing their primary care physician if they are experiencing dizzy spells, shortness of breath or chest pain. Your doctor may refer you to a heart specialist for further testing and treatment.

Risk factors for heart disease include the following:

  • A family history of cardiovascular disease.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Overweight or obesity.

  • Sedentary lifestyle.

  • Using tobacco products.

  • Metabolic disease, diabetes or other illnesses.

  • A history of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes or having a low-birthweight baby.

Some heart attack symptoms can be different between men and women. Why does it matter? Women may be less likely to seek immediate medical care, which can cause more damage to the heart. 

  • Men may feel pain and numbness in the left arm or side of the chest, but in women, these symptoms may appear on the right side.

  • Women may feel completely exhausted, drained, dizzy or nauseous.

  • Women may feel upper back pain that travels into their jaw.

  • Women may think their stomach pain is the flu, heartburn or an ulcer.

  • Feeling of fullness.

  • Pain that travels down one or both arms.

  • Excessive fatigue or weakness.

  • Anxiety.

  • Chest pain, pressure, burning, aching or tightness — it may come and go.

In some instances, the signs and symptoms are different. The patient may not complain about pain or pressure in the chest. Be alert for the following:

  • A sharp or "knife-like" pain that occurs with coughing or breathing.

  • Pain that spreads above the jawbone or into the lower body.

  • Difficult or labored breathing.

There are a variety of ways you can take care of your heart, including the following:

  • Eat a balanced diet.

  • Be active.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Get quality sleep.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Manage stress and health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

If interested in learning about your heart risk, take our online heart risk assessment. It only takes five minutes and is free.

Essentia Health-Fargo is North Dakota's only accredited Chest Pain Center with Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) and Resuscitation. This is the American College of Cardiology's (ACC) highest level of accreditation for chest pain centers. Essentia Health-Fargo is a recipient of the ACC's Platinum Award for its heart attack care. This is one of the highest cardiac honors a health care system can achieve, recognizing positive patient outcomes, performance and quality of care. 

Essentia Health-Fargo was also awarded the ACC's Transcatheter Valve Certification in 2023, the first to receive this certification for its transcatheter valve aortic replacement (TAVR) program in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

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