Heart attack at 39

Published 9:22 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Darcy Rice clearly remembers Nov. 2, 2010, because it was a day that changed her life forever.

That was the day that Rice had a heart attack, with no warning signs. She is 39.

Darcy Rice holds the pillow she used after her heart surgery. It helped keep her comfortable after the operation. -- Kelli Lageson/Albert Lea Tribune

She remembers waking early, around 2 a.m., thinking she was having back pain. As a former first responder she asked herself all the questions she’d asked people with heart problems before, but she assumed it couldn’t happen to her.

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“For me, it’s easier to take care of people then to think it’s going to happen to me,” Rice said.

Rice’s son, Zach, had had Boy Scout training about heart problems earlier that week and asked her all the same questions when he woke. He asked if it hurt to breathe, if she was feeling nauseous or warm and if her arm was numb. After telling him she was feeling all those things she agreed to go to the hospital and get checked out, while assuming she’d be back at work later that day.

“I stayed pretty calm,” Rice said.

She was in the emergency room at Albert Lea Medical Center by 6:45 a.m., and they didn’t even finish questioning her before they started taking tests. Because of her age, the medical staff didn’t know if it was a heart attack, and Rice was taken to Mayo Clinic in Rochester by ambulance around 11:30 a.m.

“By 2 p.m. they knew I needed a bypass,” Rice said.

Because she had been given a blood thinner Rice wasn’t able to get bypass surgery until Nov. 8. She said she hadn’t had any warning signs other than being tired, which she thought was just normal.

Rice’s heart problems were most likely hereditary. Her father died of a heart attack when he was 36, and her mother had already had bypass surgery.

She said she wasn’t nervous for the surgery because she knew her dad was watching over her. She was more afraid of how her family would react to seeing her after the surgery. Rice was walking the day after her surgery, but said it was difficult.

Darcy poses for a photo with her son, Zach. Zach helped her the day of her heart attack by convincing her she needed to go to the hospital. -- Submitted photo

“I felt like I had been hit by a truck,” Rice said.

To make sure Rice continued to walk farther and farther every day, her companion, Lowell, kept moving her flowers farther away from her room. It took quite a while for her wound from the surgery to heal, and she didn’t have a lot of stamina. Even simple tasks like driving were sometimes hard while she was recovering. She’s hopeful for the future, and her doctors said she shouldn’t have to worry for quite a while.

“They said I shouldn’t have problems until I’m at least 89,” Rice said.

She’ll have to have regular checkups, but the rehab went well. She’s mostly thankful for her son who worried about her the day of her heart attack. Doctors told her that if she had continued to ignore the pain she didn’t consider serious that she wouldn’t have made it through the day.

“I tell Zach he’s my hero because without him pushing me I just would have went to work,” Rice said.

Coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks, is the leading cause of death in women, which is why one local woman wants Rice to tell her story at an event that will raise money for the American Heart Association.

Patti Yaw of Alden is hosting a fundraiser event from 6 to 8:30 April 29 that she hopes will raise awareness about heart disease. The event is at the Alden-Conger School and includes a spaghetti dinner. There will also be three sessions of people doing Zumba dance as a fundraiser by getting sponsors.

“People can still join,” Yaw said. “It should be a lot of fun.”

She said that if anyone’s interested in participating or helping with the event or if businesses would like to donate to the cause they can contact her at 507-402-2030. Yaw said Rice’s story is inspiring and shows that it can happen to anyone, which is why she’s excited to have Rice talk about her experiences at the event.

“This is a serious problem,” Yaw said. “We just want awareness.”

Darcy Rice
Age: 39
Address: 717 Plainview Lane
Family: companion, Lowell; son, Zach
Livelihood: employee at Produce State Bank in Hollandale
Interesting fact: Rice likes to scrapbook in her spare time.