In the Right Place at the Right Time

March 13, 2019

In January 2018, Natalie Murat and her husband, Ralph, attended their grandson’s bar mitzvah in Livingston, New Jersey. It was a joyous occasion. But upon arriving, Natalie felt a sudden and unexplained sense of dread.

“If something happens to me, please tell Nicole to go ahead with the wedding,” the 64-year-old said to her husband.

Nicole, their daughter, was getting married in June, and Natalie, a designer, was helping to plan the entire fairytale event.

Ralph agreed to relay the message and assured his wife that everything was fine, and the couple enjoyed the evening.

But after the 65-mile drive back to their home in Brick, New Jersey, dressing for bed and curling up under the covers, Natalie remembers feeling uneasy, tossing and turning.

Soon, a deep, burning chest pain and nausea began, and Natalie knew she needed help. Ralph gave her four baby Aspirin to chew and drove her to nearby Ocean Medical Center, which has an accredited chest pain center.

“We didn’t even think to call an ambu­lance. We just panicked and got in the car,” she says.

Minutes after checking in at the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Emergency Care Center, Natalie’s pain, nausea and light­headedness began to dissipate. All that remained was a slight burning in her chest. Even her EKG was normal. She suggested to her husband they should leave and make an appointment with a cardiologist the following week.

“Regardless of what the tests showed, I wanted her to stay in the hospital,” says Jeffery Schlogl, M.D., a critical care specialist in the Emergency Care Cen­ter at Ocean. “It was clear to me that it was cardiac chest pain and not a muscle strain.”

Patients having a cardiac emergency may also experience crushing pain in the left-center of their chest lasting longer than 30 minutes, pain radiating down the left arm, sweating, nausea and dizziness.

Nothing Short of Miraculous

Dr. Schlogl’s instincts proved right. Not long after he left Natalie’s bedside, her symptoms returned. Ralph screamed for help as he watched his wife wince in pain and gasp for breath as she curled tightly into the fetal position.

Soon, Natalie lost consciousness. Hospital team members rushed to her room to immediately begin resuscitation efforts, including several rounds of chest compressions followed by a jolt of the defibrillator. Quickly, Natalie was in surgery and Hormoz Kianfar, M.D., who specializes in inter­ventional cardiology, implanted two stents.

“The next thing I remember was waking up to a group of strange faces standing around my bed and being unable to speak because I’d been intubated,” she says.

A subsequent EKG confirmed that she’d had a heart attack. Natalie was taken to the Cardiac Cath­eterization Laboratory with an acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

“The fact that she was there at that moment was nothing short of miraculous,” Dr. Schlogl says. “If she’d been outside of the hospital, she could have easily died.”

The mother of one, stepmother of two and grandmother of three stayed in the hospital for three more days before return­ing home scared and tender, but grateful.

A Hard Year’s Impact

Prior to her heart attack, Natalie says it had been a tough year, losing her mom to ovarian cancer and breaking her foot. In the haze of her grief, Natalie stopped taking the statin she’d been on for years because of her family’s history of cardiac events.

“When Mom got sick, I just stopped caring for myself,” she says. “I’m sure I did a lot of harm.”

She says her diet was less than ideal, but she was otherwise active, exercising at the gym and running regularly.

“We see so many people who you’d never imagine would have a heart attack—active, healthy, exercising—but you never know,” Dr. Schlogl says. “It can happen to anyone.”

Natalie completed two months of cardiac rehab at Ocean this spring. She credits her nurses, Diane Jantausch and Ellen Witham, and her exercise physiologist, Linda Foray, for helping her heal both mentally and physically.

“The staff was instrumental in helping me come to terms with my experience,” Natalie says. “I didn’t expect the emotional aspect to be so difficult, and they were critical to my recovery.”

A few weeks after her heart attack, Natalie brought two boxes of pastries and a thank-you card to the night shift team who helped save her life.

“Three nurses came right out and we shared tearful hugs,” she says. “They were happy to see me because, so often, they don’t get to find out what happens to their patients after they leave the Emergency Care Center. I will never forget that day.”

Natalie will also never forget the day her daugh­ter got married. On June 1, she tearfully watched Nicole walk down the aisle at her lavish formal wedding. She and 175 guests watched the sun set over the Manasquan River and danced until their feet hurt.

“That wedding is what kept me going,” she says. “I feel so blessed that I was able to be there.”

Dr. Schlogl is board certified in emergency medicine. To make an appointment, call 800-822-8905.

Learn more about Hackensack Meridian Health’s exceptional cardiac care offerings.