In August 2013, Gabby McManus awoke in the middle of
the night with severe heartburn and feeling like there was a
huge weight on her shoulders.
It was much worse than symptoms she’d experienced the
previous few weeks — occasional shortness of breath and mild
heartburn, for which she took an aspirin or two.
This time, Gabby, age 46 of St. Mary’s County, Maryland,
took four aspirin. She called her husband, Bill, who was out of
town, and he urged her to call an ambulance. Instead, she took
a shower, got dressed and decided to have her college-age
son, Brett Harman, drive her to the nearest hospital, which was
30 minutes away.
“Everything just felt heavy. I felt a little disoriented,” Gabby
said. As they drove through rural southern Maryland, a sense of
urgency set in. “I said, ‘Hurry!’”
As Gabby made her way into the emergency room, she felt
“As I was walking through the door, I said, ‘I’m not going to
make it,’” she recalled.
Gabby collapsed, and medical workers had to shock her
“I just remember waking up screaming that I wanted my
mom,” she said. Doctors and nurses explained to her that
she’d had a massive heart attack. And it wasn’t over: Over the
next several hours, her heart stopped 14 times.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I was dying,”
Fog had grounded the medical helicopter, so doctors gave
Gabby a clot-busting drug and transported her by ambulance
to a Washington, D.C., hospital an hour’s drive away.
There she was whisked into surgery where a stent was
placed in the main artery down the front of her heart, which had
been 98 percent blocked. When she awoke in the ICU, she
was disoriented and scared.
Gabby had no obvious risk factors before her heart attack.
Her blood pressure and cholesterol were normal, and she
was active and at a healthy weight. She had annual physicals.
However, it was later determined that she suffered from
coronary artery disease and that there was a family history of
When she was released from the hospital after a week,
she was afraid to leave the hospital. “I laid in the backseat
Life Is Why
Gabby McManus’s Why
Bill and Gabby McManus