Hospital Director Was In Denial About Heart Attack Symptoms

By Harry Jackson Jr.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The day after Helen Sandkuhl’s heart attack, she recalled all the mistakes she’d made. Startling because, “I could have died,” she said.

“I should have called an ambulance; they have all the equipment in case something goes wrong.”

And a bit embarrassing because she’s the administrative director of the emergency department for St. Louis University Hospital.

“When I got there, some 30 people were following me around and crying,” she said, noting that it’s common for people who had her condition to die before getting to the hospital.

That’s why she’s spreading the word to women: Know the symptoms of heart disease and heart attack, know risk factors, trust your gut feelings and don’t shrug off that feeling of “impending doom,” regardless of who says otherwise.


On June 11, 2012, Sandkuhl had an episode of indigestion, primarily nausea. She had been experiencing the indigestion on-and-off for some days. She drank some 7-Up.

“That’s what we think fixes it,” she said. The 7-Up didn’t work.

Then she took a big swig of Pepto-Bismol. That didn’t work. She decided to take a hot shower.

“That fixes everything,” she said. “A hot, relaxing shower. I have a high-stress job, and that usually helps. I was really in denial.”

She found breathing increasingly difficult, and then, “I felt this crushing pressure on my chest and a pain across my back,” she said. “I said, ‘My God, I’m having a heart attack.'”

Her daughter wanted to call an ambulance. Instead Sandkuhl had her daughter drive her to St. Louis University Hospital.

“I can see the hospital from my home; I didn’t feel I needed to call.”

The emergency room staff knew when she walked in the door that she was succumbing to heart failure.

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