When we picture what it feels like to have a heart problem, we often think about chest pain and shortness of breath. However, as one woman learned, numbness in the arms is a more common sign of a heart attack than we think — and it’s one that far too many of us don’t know about.
Forty-eight-year-old Suzanne Calicchio was having a normal day last May when she started to not feel like herself. She felt a little chest pain, but it wasn’t until she told her fiancé Mike Barradas that she was feeling numbness in her arms that the two decided to call her an ambulance. “I had no clue what was going on for the first 45 minutes,” Barradas told TODAY “And that’s when I started asking questions…That’s when they finally brought me into [another] room and they told me she went into cardiac arrest.”
After arriving at the hospital, emergency room staff had to shock Calicchio 33 times to get her heart stabilized enough for surgery. In everyone’s eyes, it ended up being a miracle that she was even alive. “I’m just so thankful that they went over and beyond for me, not knowing who I was, not knowing what I was about in my life,” she explained. “They just kept going.”
Afterward, Calicchio was able to reflect on the symptoms of a heart attack that she didn’t know beforehand. Unfortunately, many women aren’t aware that their symptoms can be very different from what men experience or what we see in movies, where people are clutching their chests dramatically. In addition to the arm numbness that Calicchio experienced, there can also be cold sweats, mild pain, general chest discomfort, and flu-like symptoms.
In addition to better recognizing these lesser-known signs of heart attacks, Calicchio also hopes women feel encouraged to advocate for themselves more if something feels off. “I would’ve died in my sleep,” Calicchio said. “I absolutely would have been a goner…The fact that I paid attention to how my body was reacting and I said something to [my fiancé] and that he reacted, it all just happened for a reason, I believe,” she explain to TODAY. “The main thing, walking away from this experience, is listening to your body. You have to listen, and you can’t be stubborn and put it under the rug, because that’s when you’re snatched away.”
While Calicchio went through a frightening ordeal, her words have the power to help many people — especially women — keep an eye out in the future.