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Carmen Varnado-Wixx

Diagnosis: Stress-induced cardiomyopathy

Treatment: Cardiac stent and medicationsCarmen Varnado-Wixx

Carmen Varnado-Wixx first met EvergreenHealth cardiologist Dr. Cynthia Warner when her mother began seeing Dr. Warner for treatment of heart disease.

Carmen had no idea then that Dr. Warner would one day be saving her life with a clutch diagnosis in the Emergency Department.

54-year old Carmen had been suffering from some shoulder pain.

Then she began feeling nauseous and started to vomit, which she attributed to eating some bad pizza.

Her husband urged her to go to the Emergency Department, but Carmen made an appointment with her primary care physician instead.

On the drive there, her husband said, “Change of plans…I’m taking you straight to the hospital.”

That turned out to be a good call.

As her workup was starting in the ED, Carmen went into full cardiac arrest.

She was resuscitated by ED doctor Steven Connelly and then taken to the cardiac catheterization lab by Dr. Warner, who happened to be the cardiologist on call.


One of Carmen's arteries was 99 percent blocked…but that wasn’t her only life-threatening problem.

Luckily for her, Dr. Warner recognized the uncommon combination of cardiac crises that resulted in her symptoms and brought her to the hospital in the first place.

“Carmen was suffering from a rare condition called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, which is also known as broken heart syndrome,” Dr. Warner explains.

“The onset is frequently triggered by an intense emotional or physical stress. It causes rapid, and often severe, heart muscle weakness, which decreases the heart’s pumping function and increases the chance it can go into lethal heart rhythms.”

In Carmen's case, recent physical stresses had left her heart pumping at just half its normal function.

According to Dr. Warner, she is one of the very rare people who have both stress-induced cardiomyopathy and coronary disease at the same time.

“The diagnosis of stress-induced cardiomyopathy can be tricky,” Dr. Warner says, “because the initial presentation is very similar to that of an acute heart attack and may account for about 2 percent of suspected acute coronary syndromes.”

It’s more common in females, usually postmenopausal women, and is rarely seen with an already existing coronary blockage.

“Stress-induced cardiomyopathy is treatable,” Dr. Warner notes. “With good medical treatment, patients who survive the acute episode can recover the heart’s pumping function.”

A stent was placed in Carmen's blocked coronary artery.

She was placed on heart failure medications and began EvergreenHealth’s cardiac rehabilitation program.

“I learned about the symptoms of a heart attack, the nutritionist has taught me about healthier food options, and we exercise three times a week,” she says.

A month later, follow-up tests showed that her heart function had returned to normal.


“I’m so grateful,” Carmen shares. “Grateful that my cardiac arrest happened in the ED and not in the car, and grateful that Dr. Warner had the expertise to uncover the stress-induced cardiomyopathy.”

“With my family history, I knew I was probably going to need Dr. Warner’s care sooner or later,” she adds. “I just didn’t know it was going to be sooner. She saved my life.”

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