Wenter's Tale – The Hidden Face of Heart Disease

Wenter Blair does not look like a typical heart disease patient. She isn’t.

Wenter Blair
Wenter Blair

On a cold yet sunny January morning, with patches of ice not yet melted on the sidewalk outside, Wenter Blair enters a local coffee shop and flashes a smile that sheds warmth on all who see it. She is, as the saying goes, the picture of perfect health.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

“This is the face of heart disease,” Wenter, 42, says, using a well-manicured finger to frame the visage of a woman who looks even younger than she is. “This is the face of six stents. This is the face that nearly died a year ago in November.”

There is a stereotype for what a heart disease patient is “supposed” to look like – male, overweight, smoker, in his 60s or older – and certain risk factors exist to help physicians predict health problems (see sidebar). But not every heart disease patient looks the same. The fact that Wenter does not fit that stereotype almost killed her.

The Look of a Heart Patient

Around Thanksgiving in 2009, Wenter was experiencing unusual fatigue and bouts of intense, extended pain. Wenter thought she was suffering from hot flashes related to menopause or possibly just indigestion. An EKG soon after revealed Wenter was, in actuality, suffering from heart attacks. Wenter couldn’t believe it, and neither could the cardiologist her obstetrician had referred her to.

“I went to see the cardiologist," Wenter remembers, "And the cardiologist said, ‘Look at you! You’re 40! You're fabulous! You’re fine.”

The cardiologist thought Wenter’s pain was likely caused by hormones and determined the results from a number of tests were “false positive.” After a few more episodes of sweating and pain and at the suggestion of a friend who was a nurse, Wenter asked the cardiologist for a cardiac catheterization. The doctor begrudgingly – and thankfully – obliged.

When Wenter was in the recovery room, her husband shared the news: four arteries were blocked at 90 percent. The doctors had trouble stabilizing her and wanted to do a quadruple bypass procedure on the spot. Wenter's husband told the doctors she was not spiritually prepared for such an operation. The doctor put in two stents, instead. Two weeks later, three more stents.

Wenter started looking for further diagnosis and treatment options elsewhere.

Know the Risks of Heart Disease

Wenter Blair's specific genetic disorder is rare, but heart disease is not. Helpfully, there are several risk factors to indicate when an individual's health may be in danger.

"Our risk factors are not perfect, but they are pretty good, about who will get heart disease," says Dr. Khera. "Any one risk factor is not the crystal ball, but together they can predict which patients will have heart disease about 75 to 80 percent of the time."

Risk factors include:

  • High Cholesterol (over 200)
  • High Blood Pressure (more than 140 over 80)
  • History of Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Family History of Heart Disease