Deb’s Heart Attack Story: From Director of Therapy to Therapy Patient

Unfortunately for Deb Campbell, suffering a life-threatening heart attack on April 2nd was not an April Fool’s joke.

Deb is the Director of Therapy Operations for Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital and Northern Colorado Long Term Acute Hospital in Northern Colorado. An occupational therapist, herself, Deb never thought she would

Deb Campbell is the Director of Therapy Operations at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital & Northern Colorado Long Term Acute Hospital

be a heart attack survivor just a few days before her 47th birthday.

Deb’s father suffered a heart attack, which led to her interest in heart health and education. “I’ve always known that women often have abnormal symptoms when having a heart attack,” Deb noted. “I have educated many patients on eating a healthy diet and exercise. When it came time to recognize my own symptoms, I did not trust my gut feeling.”

Deb had been experiencing symptoms of being extremely tired, feeling her heart flutter, and burning chest pain on-and-off for months. She “kept talking myself out of it,” thinking it was heartburn, stress or a virus.

While on a boat in Costa Rica, Deb could no longer ignore the symptoms. She thought she was getting sea sick and laid down. Next thing she knew, Deb woke up to a stranger screaming for her to open her eyes.

Deb’s heart had stopped beating, and she was unconscious.

Eventually aroused, Deb was taken to a local hospital. Doctors found the primary artery sending blood to her heart was 96% blocked. The medical staff treated the blockage and she left for home 10 days later.

Upon returning home, Deb started a 12-week-long intensive cardiac rehab program. She admitted to “feeling embarrassed,” recalling she was the youngest one there. “However, I knew I could trust the therapists to get me back to my life.”

Deb knows this experience has affected the way she cares for patients. “I have more empathy and relate to what they are feeling at a visceral level,” she said. “I understand being scared and nervous. I understand the discomfort of moving from one hospital to another. I can appreciate the behaviors of families and patients – appreciate that they are coming from a place of fear and concern.”

Deb tells anyone with symptoms of a heart attack–but especially women–to “trust your instincts. If you are trying to talk yourself out of thinking you’re having a heart attack, you should seek medical attention immediately.”

Deb knows she is lucky to have survived. She has a holiday celebration on the anniversary of her heart attack. “I celebrate life,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I trusted the therapists and doctors, so I wasn’t afraid. I learned to take advantage of my life now – you never know when it may end.”