June 2016

Nobody suspected it was a heart attack

Stabbing pains in the chest which radiated to the jaw and head. Letizia Rampinelli (65) never would have thought that these were signs of a pending heart attack – and they persisted for several years. A personal report.

Frauenherzen schlagen anders
The Zurich resident, Letizia Rampinelli, never considered a heart attack given her long-standing complaints.

"I first felt the symptoms at the age of twenty-four. Very young and recently divorced, I was a single mum bringing up two boys aged three and six. I felt a stabbing, throbbing pain in her chest which radiated to my jaw and head. The pain disappeared just as quickly as it had come. I put it down to the strain which I was under at the time. For this reason, I didn’t think anything of it. I felt a visit to the doctor was unnecessary. The pain recurred on a regular basis over several years. Sometimes it lasted for up to ten minutes. I had it intermittently. It was especially bad when I was under great strain. For example, following the death of someone close to me. So it seemed clear to me that the pain was associated with my mental state. I didn’t think about it very much.

A full schedule from early in the morning until late at night

I had always been employed. I initially graduated from the hotel management school. Later on, I worked in the fashion industry before switching to the cosmetics industry. I subsequently worked for a big perfumery chain for seventeen years, ten years of which I was employed as the head of a department. My job was varied and challenging – at times I was in charge of up to 120 women. I travelled daily as part of my work. I really enjoyed working, even though it was often strenuous.

I always looked after my children on my own. It only worked out because I planned and organised everything in advance down to the last detail. Every evening, I discussed the next day with my sons. They quickly learned to be independent. Every moment of my day was planned from early in the morning until late at night. In spite of this, I never felt stressed. There was no time for sport, and I also felt no need for it at the time. I felt fit. If I had some spare time, I enjoyed spending it with my children or friends.

I suddenly started getting sweating attacks

My work changed in 2003. I was responsible for even more staff. Then my division was split up. These changes led to problems, and I felt stressed for the first time. The pain occurred more frequently again. I gave up my managerial role and left the company in 2008. From then on, I managed my son’s shop. My daily duties were quite different here. I was usually alone in the shop and looked after customers. I also had a responsible role here in my capacity as managing director, but it wasn’t as demanding as my previous position.

One afternoon in the shop, it was in November 2012, I suddenly started sweating – first hot and then cold. I felt unwell and had difficulty breathing. Then the stabbing pain set in – it was intense and frightening. I hoped it wouldn’t last long. I went home after work. My husband – I had remarried in the meantime – had made dinner for us. I felt better after having eaten and relaxed a bit.

I can remember exactly what happened the next day. The pain suddenly came back. It was unbearably strong – I thought I was going to die. My husband was with me and he phoned the emergency doctor. I was already given morphine in the ambulance. They suspected that I had shingles. The painkiller had not helped me. The result of the blood test later in hospital: it was a heart attack. I panicked and felt afraid. The doctors reacted quickly: emergency operation and one stent. I was lucky because living so close to the hospital is presumably what saved my life. I was allowed to go home after just under a week. Work was the best medicine for me. My doctors also confirmed this assumption. That is why I went back to work immediately. The outpatient rehabilitation made me feel more secure, and I felt like I was in good hands.

Ten kilos in three months

I have done strength and endurance training three times a week ever since. I have changed my diet and lost ten kilograms in three months. My values are stable without the need for medication. Only my cholesterol level is still too high. I now live more consciously and enjoy things more intensely, not having worked since February. I now spend more time with my four grandchildren and travel with my husband.

I feel very good at the moment. I am more attentive to any pain I feel than I used to be. I have lasting memories of the day I had my heart attack. My family, friends and even my family doctor were shocked at the time. Nobody would have thought about the possibility of a heart attack given the fact that my symptoms had persisted for several years. Not even I did, even though my mother died of a heart attack at the age of 62."

Text: Carmen Schmidli