Dawn's story of takotsubo syndrome

Dawn Loates experienced takotsubo syndrome, sometimes called broken heart syndrome. She tells Senior Cardiac Nurse Emily Reeve about her experience, and how being creative helped her recovery. 

sawn sitting outside with rose

Dawn, 81, was gardening on a hot July afternoon when she felt her heart pounding rapidly, and developed a headache. She’d never felt this way before, and didn’t know what was happening. When she still felt awful the next morning, her husband called an ambulance. 

Suspecting a heart attack, doctors referred her for an emergency angiogram to see if her arteries were blocked. The results were normal and a doctor told her she hadn’t suffered a heart attack. It was only when Dawn was sent for further urgent tests that an echocardiogram revealed she had takotsubo syndrome. She was told that the bottom third of her heart was misshapen and that, with time, it would heal on its own.

Unlike many people with takotsubo syndrome, Dawn says she hadn’t experienced a stressful event. The condition was described to her as ‘broken heart syndrome’, which made her feel confused.

Gradual recovery

Dawn was prescribed medication (aspirin, ramipril, ticagrelor and bisoprolol) to reduce her risk of developing a blood clot, reduce the workload for her heart and to control her unusually high blood pressure.

I decided to make a mosaic. This really helped my recovery

“When I went home I was very breathless,” she says. “Even walking two steps affected my breathing. I felt as though I had a tight band across my chest and no energy. I just sat there. I felt frightened.”

Dawn felt frustrated that she didn’t have much information regarding what was and wasn’t safe for her to do. She found one of the toughest things about having takotsubo syndrome was the emotional impact. That she couldn’t be as active as before or do some of her favourite hobbies made it harder.

“I was left wondering whether it was getting better or not and if it could happen again,” she says. “A lot of people do not know much about this condition, and this made me feel more vulnerable.”

Turning her experience into art helped Dawn come to terms with what she’d been through. “I decided to do something creative,” she says. “After researching the condition, I made a mosaic showing a broken heart, an octopus and an octopus pot. This was therapeutic and really helped me during my recovery.”

dawn artwork

At her repeat echocardiogram, Dawn was told she had healed and could stop taking her tablets. “It took me another two months to feel back to my ‘old self’, but after this I felt much happier,” she says.

Dawn’s recovery was helped by support from her family. “My husband is wonderful,” she says. “He was marvellous, I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family.” For Dawn, her mosaic octopus (pictured above) is a lasting reminder of what she has been through and how she found the strength to cope. She is grateful to BHF-funded researchers such as Dr Dawson who are helping us learn more about this little understood condition.

Dawn sat next to picture

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