PENDLETON --- On a Sunday morning in July of 2015, Stephanie Brown was getting ready for church when she began to feel anxious and overheated. She wasn't able to sit still so she began to pace.  It was an unusual and disturbing feeling, she recalls; she wasn't experiencing any pain and had no problems breathing but she knew she needed medical attention.  Before her husband put her in the car to head to the hospital emergency room, she vomited. 

On the way to the ER, she was in and out of consciousness.

She now knows she was experiencing her first heart attack - at age 43.  It was the first of many  -- an estimated 50 or 60 heart attacks over the next seven days before she received a correct diagnosis and was taken to surgery where a stent was inserted to relieve a 76 percent blockage in her left LAD coronary artery.  

"I remember looking at my husband later and saying, 'if I had been at home by myself that Sunday, I wouldn't have made it," said Brown, a Licensed Veterinary Technician, who serves as program director/instructor as well as head of the evening Veterinary Technology program at Tri-County Technical College. 

Like many women, Brown didn't have the crippling chest pain or pain shooting down her arm that often accompanies a heart attack. And, like many women, she was misdiagnosed.

When she arrived at the Easley ER that Sunday morning, hospital staff couldn't get a blood pressure reading after multiple attempts.  "I basically had bottomed out," said Brown.  After hooking her up to an EKG four times, hospital staff determined she was having a heart attack.  Following a dose of nitro glycerin to relieve her symptoms, she was transported to another hospital whose staff performed multiple tests and a heart catheterization.  They determined there were no blockages, and after two days in the hospital, sent her home to 'take it easy.'  Final diagnosis:  anxiety.    

She later learned that her feelings of anxiety were her body's reaction to having restricted blood flow to the heart muscle. And her nausea was related to her digestive system not getting enough blood.

While men typically suffer chest pains that feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest, women experience far more subtle symptoms like fatigue, mild pain, and not always in the region of the heart, pressure or achiness in the breastbone, upper back, shoulders, neck, or jaw -  signs that are often ignored until it's too late.

During the next week at home, Brown experienced repeated episodes of chest pain, difficulty breathing, and a tingling down her arm.  A cardiologist later determined she had suffered about 18 heart attacks during that week at home. 

Brown met with Greenville cardiologist Dr. James Merriam, who finally delivered the proper diagnosis.  As she spoke with Dr. Merriam in his office, she began to have more episodes where she couldn't breathe.  "I had had about 50 or 60 of them while at home the past week and probably 18 over a 12-hour period before I got to Dr. Merriam's office," she said.  From midnight until 10 a.m. the next day, Brown counted 18 episodes.  Dr. Merriam noted she had three additional episodes while he was talking with her.   At the doctor's office, Dr. Merriam took one look at her EKG and rushed her to the hospital catheterization lab, where they inserted a stent.

"I have had no problems since.  I was back to work in two weeks.  I was finally back on track," she said.  As part of her treatment plan, Brown takes one heart medication in the morning and an aspirin at night.

Today she feels great and is ready to tell her story.

"I have a real desire to educate the public about women and heart disease and strokes.  Dr. Merriam asked me to talk about my experience with others.  I am dedicated to advocating for women's heart health issues.  I've often asked God, 'why me'?  Now I know my experience is a gift I can turn into knowledge for others.  Get your numbers.  Be aware of your body. My lifestyle was healthy.  I am in shape, fit, and have good numbers.  I didn't think I was a candidate for a heart attack.  But anybody can be," she said 

The American Heart Association and WSPA-TV partnered to host the 2016 Go Red for Women Casting Call to select real women from the Upstate to share their stories and inspire others.  Brown is one of 12 women in the Upstate chosen as spokespersons to promote heart health awareness. During the month of February (Heart Health Month) and beyond, they will tell their stories about surviving a variety of heart ailments to empower others by example.

"I have a desire to make this known publicly.  Heart disease, not cancer, is the number one killer of women.   A heart attack will kill a woman every 80 seconds," said Brown.  "Too many women die each year because they are unaware that heart disease is their No. 1 killer.  Go Red stands for: Get your numbers.  Own your lifestyle.  Realize the Risk.  Educate your family.  Don't stop telling people.  That's what I plan to do."