Four years ago, Julie Krause started an intense new hobby — powerlifting. She got into it while working out at her gym. Before long, she was hooked. She began competing regionally and bringing home medals from her competitions.
“It makes me feel strong,” Krause said. “I’ve lifted about 1,000 pounds total at my last competition.”
Krause, a 44-year-old mother of three, hopes to start pumping serious iron again soon, but for now she is working out in MU Health Care’s cardiac rehabilitation gym. She hopes her story can be a lesson for others that they shouldn’t ignore warning signs of heart problems — particularly if they’ve recently had COVID-19.
On Sept. 8, Krause tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to visit family in Nebraska. None of her family members contracted the virus, and her symptoms were mild, manifesting as a fever, headache and loss of appetite. After isolating at home, she felt better and was cleared to go back to work as a patient account representative at MU Health Care’s Weight Management and Metabolic Institute on Sept. 16.
That night, she went to her daughter’s softball game and started feeling chest pains.
“I blew it off because I just had all of this time off for COVID,” she said. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of nothing.”
She struggled to sleep that night. Molly, her Australian shepherd dog, seemed to understand something was wrong and kept waking up her husband. An hour into her work shift the next morning, Krause’s chest pain got worse. She headed to Mizzou Urgent Care, where an electrocardiogram detected that she was having a heart attack. She was sent straight to the emergency room at University Hospital.
She had a 100% blockage in her left anterior descending artery, the vessel that carries fresh blood to the heart. The interventional cardiology team performed an angioplasty. It’s a minimally invasive procedure in which a thin tube is inserted into a blood vessel through the wrist and threaded to site of the artery blockage. The tip of the tube has a balloon that is inflated to push the blockage against the artery wall so blood can flow freely again.
Arun Kumar, MD, an interventional cardiologist at MU Health Care, was the attending physician during Krause’s stay in the ICU.
“The amount of clotting she had was out of the ordinary,” Kumar said. “Some heart attacks can be 100% blocked, and if you don’t get it fixed immediately, that heart muscle could die permanently.”
Krause was stunned at her diagnosis. She was active and had low cholesterol before the heart attack. Although there is no way to be certain, Kumar said COVID-19 could have played a role in her heart attack.
“Julie didn’t have a lot of traditional risk factors, and it’s possible that COVID-19 was a contributing factor,” Kumar said. “Based on data, we think that folks who have had COVID are more susceptible to forming clots than the average population.”
Kumar said maintaining a healthy lifestyle, participating in cardiac rehabilitation and using the appropriate medications will get Krause back to doing what she loves to do. It will take time, though.
“I am now up to 60-minute workouts in MU Health Care’s Fit for Life program twice a week,” she said. “It’s about 20 minutes of work on three different machines. My goal is to get my heart pump function up to 60%, and I’m at about 40% now. I was at 25% when it all happened.”
Krause often wonders what she could have done differently. Because she was so healthy, she didn’t think she needed to worry about a heart attack. The symptoms include chest pain, unusual fatigue and shortness of breath.
“I didn’t really know what to do, and I wish I would have cared about those things sooner,” she said. “In hindsight, I would have gone to the doctor sooner when I felt pain.”
Kumar encourages people to err on the side of caution, especially if experiencing persistent chest pain.
“When in doubt, get it checked out,” he said. “You don’t know what type of blockage someone is experiencing from symptoms alone, so it’s important to seek medical help when you’re having severe symptoms like chest pain.”
Krause is grateful she sought help before it was too late, and she’s eager to return to full strength and get back to work in the gym.
“I can’t wait to fully recover,” she said. “Sitting at home and doing nothing is not my cup of tea.”