0303-SFTH-Sabrina Robinson_Blog

Sabrina Robinson was at home with her then-6-year-old son Zachary, 35 miles away from the nearest hospital where she worked as a nurse in the cardiologist’s office, when she thought she was having a stroke.

She called 911 that morning in 2014, but when the EMS crew arrived, they didn’t detect anything wrong. Robinson – aware that medical personnel doubted she had any problems – insisted on going to the hospital, and it wasn’t until halfway there that they determined she was having a heart attack.

“I just started bawling,” said Robinson, who was 36 at the time. “I thought I was going to die in the back of the ambulance with these people who thought I was faking it.”

Finally, the ambulance’s lights and sirens were initiated, and the driver told the hospital in Topeka, Kansas, they were on the way. The catheterization lab was activated by the time they arrived, and there, a heart surgeon Robinson knew told her they couldn’t place a stent because the artery had torn.

“I knew all of these people, and I could tell from the looks on their faces that I was in trouble,” Robinson said.

More bad news followed. Although paramedics had given Robinson a blood thinner, surgery was the only option. By then, Robinson’s husband, Tony, had arrived, and the two quickly embraced in the hallway before she underwent nearly 10 hours of surgery.

“When they got to that artery, there were tons of pieces of blood clots,” she said. “I just wasn’t getting blood supply to a part of my heart.”

The bottom of Robinson’s heart had been deprived of blood for so long that it was no longer operational. Doctors updated her husband every 90 minutes, and initially, the outlook was grim.

“They came out an hour into the surgery and told him that I probably wasn’t going to live, and to prepare himself for that,” Robinson said.

The medical professionals weren’t exaggerating. It turned out that she suffers from a rare condition called fibromuscular dysplasia, which makes arteries susceptible to tearing. Her heart attack had been caused by a tear in a blood vessel in the heart, called spontaneous coronary artery dissection.

Three months after her surgery, Robinson’s ejection fraction, which measures how well the heart pumps blood out of the heart, was well below normal, placing her at risk for sudden cardiac death. So doctors implanted a defibrillator.

Robinson also joined a study at the Mayo Clinic, where doctors are investigating fibromuscular dysplasia, which seems to affect many otherwise healthy people. Genetic researchers are also involved, and Robinson is having her son screened for the condition.

Robinson went back to the hospital after recovering, and continues to work there while attending school to further her medical education. Now, she said, she approaches nursing differently.

Once, Robinson was trying to comfort a terrified patient about to undergo bypass surgery. Robinson shared her story with the patient.

“‘I got through it, and you’ll get through it, too,'” she said.

Later, the patient returned to the hospital to thank Robinson. She said her experience also helps her understand patients’ more logistical needs, like how to get dressed and use the bathroom.

Robinson said she never wants to make a patient feel like she did in the ambulance, when she felt like no one believed her.

“I don’t approach things like I used to. It makes me a lot more compassionate about what people are going through, and the fear that they have,” she said. “It was good for me to get a good eyeful of what’s on the other side.”

Photos courtesy of Sabrina Robinson