'I was close to being one of those statistics': State trooper example of increased heart attacks in younger adults
North Carolina state trooper Ethan Bradshaw went to the gym with some friends the morning of February 24, 2022, as he'd done countless times before. He ended the day not at work, as planned, but in the ICU in the hospital after going into cardiac arrest.
At only 30 years old, Bradshaw said despite having all the known symptoms of a heart attack, he truly didn't believe that was what was happening.
"The chest pains, I wasn't listening to it," Bradshaw said. "I wasn't listening to the numbness in my arm. And then the nausea. It just started building up. And I was thinking, 'man, I'm 30. There's no way this is happening.'"
He only went to the hospital because a friend in the medical field told him he should, and Bradshaw still drove himself to the emergency room. His wife, four months pregnant at the time, met him there. Four minutes later, he went into cardiac arrest.
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After 20 minutes of CPR and seven shocks with the defibrillator, hospital staff finally felt a pulse. An ambulance transported Bradshaw to Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where cardiologist Dr. Samuel Turner was waiting.
"I diagnosed him with a 100% blockage in the main artery that's referred to," Turner said. "Sometimes if you do not show up quick enough to the emergency department, you may not survive that kind of heart attack."
Turner repaired the blockage by placing two stents in the artery to resume the flow of blood. and implanting an Impella pump. Still, Bradshaw remained on a ventilator for 10 days and ended up contracting pneumonia. One hundred troopers stood in the waiting room, supporting him and his growing family, applauding the doctors' work.
Bradshaw eventually went to a rehabilitation center after three weeks and returned to work after several months. Five months after his heart attack, Bradshaw's wife, Mickaela, gave birth to their son.
With the life-altering event, Bradshaw became a part of a growing statistic. New research shows an increasing proportion of people in the US younger than 55 years are being hospitalized for heart attacks, with the largest increase in young women.
Turner said 1 to 2% of the U.S. population younger than 30 will end up having a heart attack. And the number goes up to 8% for those younger than 50. While there are some pre-determined conditions people cannot help, like family history of heart disease, there are daily choices people can make to avoid these issues. Turner recommends:
- Cutting smoking habits
- See your primary care doctor regularly (once a year)
- 30 minutes of exercise, 4-5 days per week
"We know that high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity put you at risk for having heart disease and heart conditions, so you can't treat that problem unless you know you have it," Turner said.
Before the heart attack, Bradshaw worked out six days a week and doesn't smoke, but he did admit to not going to the doctor regularly. He said he hopes his story serves as a warning to other young adults thinking it could never happen to them, to take their heart health seriously.
"If something feels off, there's a reason something feels off. Go get checked out," Bradshaw said. "Maybe they would've found the blockage earlier or put me on aspirin or blood thinners and took care of it. Get rid of that old mentality of just being tough and you don't need to go to the doctor. You need to listen to your body."
Turner said Bradshaw's case emphasizes the point that heart disease does not discriminate by age or gender, but there are different symptoms for men and women when going into cardiac arrest.
While the classic symptoms, such as chest pains, apply to both men and women, women are much more likely to get less common symptoms such as indigestion, shortness of breath, and back pain, sometimes even in the absence of obvious chest discomfort.
"If you are experiencing anything of concern," Turner said, "Seek medical care immediately because it could truly make the difference between life and death."
Turner also encourages people to learn how to perform high-quality CPR. He said 75% of heart attacks occur in the home and can be deadly if not acted upon quickly, so learning that skill can save a loved one's life.