A woman grieving over her pet dog’s death was rushed to the hospital in suspicion of an impending cardiac arrest — doctors, however, found a completely different problem.
Joanie Simpson treated Meha, her beloved Yorkshire terrier, as her own daughter.
When they grilled outdoors on Friday nights, the 62-year-old retiree and her husband would give Meha her own hamburger.
“The kids were grown and out of the house, so she was our little girl,” she told The Washington Post.
So when Meha died of congestive heart failure last year, Simpson’s world fell apart: “I was close to inconsolable. I really took it really, really hard.”
Simpson took it hard, indeed. One morning, she woke up with her back and chest hurting. She found herself at a local emergency room 20 minutes later, before being transported to a hospital in Houston, Texas.
Physicians at a Memorial Hermann hospital expected a patient showing classic signs of heart attack. They immediately inserted a catheter from Simpson’s groin to her heart. At this point, they anticipated seeing blocked arteries.
But to their surprise, Simpson’s blood vessels had no issues.
“The artery was crystal clear. It was pristine,” said Abhishek Maiti, one of her doctors. They looked into another and it was fine, too.
After more tests, Simpson was eventually diagnosed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a condition that “mimics acute coronary syndrome and is accompanied by reversible left ventricular apical ballooning in the absence of angiographically significant coronary artery stenosis,” according to a pioneer study published in the Texas Heart Institute Journal.
Tako-tsubo is a Japanese word for an octopus trap, and a patient with the condition has a left ventricle that resembles the shape of such trap.
Simply put, takotsubo cardiomyopathy is the weakening of the heart’s main pumping chamber caused by factors other than an artery blockage, the usual of which are emotional stressors. For this reason, it is known as “broken-heart syndrome.”
Doctors started communicating with Simpson about her stressors as soon as medication helped her stabilize. They told her about “broken-heart syndrome,” which she found to make “complete sense.”
It turned out that Simpson had been dealing with other problems — a possible surgery on her son, the loss of a job of her son-in-law, and a property sale that was too complicated.
It was Meha’s death, however, that literally pushed Simpson to the brink of a broken heart.
“It was such a horrendous thing to have to witness,” she recalled watching her dog die. “When you’re already kind of upset about other things, it’s like a brick on a scale. I mean, everything just weighs on you.”
— NEJM (@NEJM) October 17, 2017
Simpson’s story is highlighted in The New England Journal of Medicine, a valuable addition to the growing research on the intriguing condition.
Simpson now owns a cat named Buster, but she’s open to having another dog when she’s ready.
“It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above,” she said. “But you know what? They give so much love and companionship that I’ll do it again. I will continue to have pets. That’s not going to stop me.”