Joondalup Health Campus
Part of Ramsay Health Care


Broken heart syndrome for grandmother who saved husband’s life

Jul 25, 2016

For Perth grandmother Margaret Walkerden a trip to her local shopping centre last week turned into a race to save her husband’s life and ended with an unexpected medical twist of her own.

The 64-year-old says she was shopping with her husband Stanley at Whitford City when he suffered a heart attack.

“He suddenly went very pale all and dropped to the floor so I ran over and started chest compressions immediately while bystanders called an ambulance and centre security arrived with a defibrillator,” she said.

What happened next came as a shock to couple – and to doctors. While Stanely was being treated at Joondalup Health Campus Margaret said she began feeling unwell herself and experiencing chest pain: “After witnessing my husband’s sudden heart attack, I knew I had to speak up and so I informed the nurses – they acted immediately in getting me help,” she said.

Joondalup Health Campus Director of Cardiology Dr Jenny Deague said she was at home on-call when she got a message from hospital staff about Mrs Walkerden: “I said to them, ‘Mrs Walkerden? I’ve just treated Mr Walkerden!”

“Sure enough Mr Walkerden’s wife was having chest pain and needed an urgent angiogram. The angiogram showed normal coronary arteries but evidence of Takotsubo’s Cardiomyopathy, better known as Broken Heart Syndrome or Stress Cardiomyopathy.”

“This is a heart condition that's often brought on by stressful situations, such severe illness or intense emotional, physical or psychological stress such as death of a loved one, fierce arguments or financial hardship,” Dr Deague said.

“It’s not very common at all but the good news is that her overall prognosis is good and this condition often gets better very quickly with standard medicines. Mrs Walkerden is now home and doing very well.”

Dr Deague praised Mrs Walkerden’s quick thinking and immediate actions and credited her with saving her husband’s life: “What Mrs Walkerden did in starting cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her husband so quickly really did save his life – those first few minutes are absolutely critical and she did exactly the right thing in starting chest compressions immediately.”

“A little-known change to CPR guidelines in recent years is that you don’t have to do mouth-to-mouth anymore - chest compressions alone are enough to keep a person alive so the need for mouth-to-mouth contact with someone in cardiac arrest is no longer strictly necessary.

“Mrs Walkerden knew this because of her daughters’ recent first aid training knowledge and discussions they’d had at home.”

Dr Deague said the Walkerden’s were a good example of how knowing what to do when someone is having a heart attack is vital: “Early CPR can make the difference between life or death in sudden cardiac arrest so the main thing to remember is to take action quickly and start chest compressions – you don’t need to worry about how many breaths and how many compressions, you just need to get started,” she said. “And of course, the other important message here is to speak up quickly if you ever experience heart symptoms – do what Mrs Walkerden did in seeking medical attention quickly.”

“In the past the fear of getting it wrong may have stopped a by-stander from commencing CPR. This year nearly thirty thousand Australians could die from cardiac arrest because too few bystanders have basic CPR skills.”

If a person becomes unconscious and is not breathing the current recommended steps are:

  1. Call for help – yell loudly to those around you to call for an ambulance and locate the nearest automated external defibrillator
  2. Start chest compressions - with the palm of your hand push hard and fast in the centre of the chest.
  3. Continue chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute – that’s about two compressions every second – until a defibrillator is located or the ambulance arrives.