A Lesson From R.T. Rybak For All Of Us: Every Second Counts
Cardiac distress can strike even fit and healthy athletes. Learn the symptoms recognized by R.T. Rybak’s friends—and how their fast action saved his life.
Former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak is fit, healthy, and an enthusiastic cross-country skier. When he hit the trails in lovely Theodore Wirth park last Saturday, an impending health crisis was probably the furthest thing from his mind. But the unexpected happens. Vigorous exercise carries risks as well as rewards. The risks shouldn’t keep us from staying fit; but they can remind us to be prepared. With a little education, we can recognize and react promptly to warning signs like the numbness that flags frostbite, or the shortness of breath that can signal cardiac distress.
When Rybak started feeling chest pain and shortness of breath, he headed to his car and called his wife. According to news reports, two friends who had just finished skiing themselves happened to notice him sitting in his car, obviously in distress. They called 911 immediately, even though Rybak asked them to wait. Later, Rybak’s doctor credited their quick action for likely saving Rybak’s life.
“Rybak’s reaction is not unusual,” says Summit sports medicine sub-specialist Dr. Kirk Scofield. “We expect a heart attack to be sudden and intense, but most of them start slowly, with mild discomfort. Often, people are confused about what’s happening, and try to ride out the pain. But when it comes to a heart attack, minutes matter, and any delay can be deadly. Medical advances are able to treat heart attacks more successfully than ever before, but timing is critical. Clot-busting drugs can stop some heart attacks, but are most effective when given as soon as symptoms appear.”
Lifesaving treatment hangs on fast action. By learning these signs of a heart attack—which are slightly different for men and women, you’ll be prepared to help.
Heart attack symptoms in men
The most common symptoms are the ones Rybak experienced: chest pain, discomfort, profuse sweating, and/or difficulty breathing.
Heart attach symptoms in women
Like men, the most common symptoms for women are chest pain, discomfort, sweating and shortness of breath, but women are more likely than men to experience nausea or vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, and arm, back or jaw pain. The indications can be subtle; some women assume their symptoms are signs of the flu.
Remember, someone in cardiac arrest may not exhibit all of the signs of a heart attack. The symptoms can be tricky to recognize, and can come and go. Even if you are not sure you are witnessing or having a heart attack, don’t take chances. Call 911 within 5 minutes of experiencing or witnessing any of these symptoms. Don’t wait. Fast action is critical.
We’d love to see every heart attack resolve like Rybak’s—with a happy ending. When you know what to look for and what to do, the happy ending might be your own.
If you have medical questions about exercising safely, our checklist will help you understand when your doctor should review your fitness program before you begin.
Ask the Expert: Arthritis Video Series
Senior Summit PAs explain Summit’s multidisciplinary approach to physician assistant training.