Everything seemed to be going wrong for retired Texan Joanie Simpson. And when her cherished Yorkshire terrier died, it broke her heart -- and very nearly killed her.
As The Washington Post reported, the Camp Woods resident had woken up one morning with an awful backache, then rolled over and felt chest pains.
Before long she was being airlifted to Houston with the symptoms of a classic heart attack -- but doctors at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center, finding Simpson's arteries unblocked, diagnosed something else entirely: Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
Also known as "broken-heart syndrome," the sometimes-fatal condition -- whose signs are similar to a heart attack -- typically arises after devastating events such as the loss of a loved one.
Things had been tough last year for Simpson, 62. Her son needed surgery, her son-in-law lost his job and she was entangled in a complex property sale. On top of it all, her 9-year-old dog, Meha, had congestive heart failure.
Then Meha died.
"I was close to inconsolable," she told the Post. "I really took it really, really hard."
Simpson's case, featured in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, shows how grief for pets can be as traumatic as grief for people. With her children grown and out of the house, Meha "was our little girl," Simpson said.
When Meha died in May 2016, it wasn't pretty.
"It was such a horrendous thing to have to witness," Simpson said.
The day of her episode, doctors were instead able to stabilize Simpson with medication, then talked with her about the emotional turmoil she had been experiencing as they explained the diagnosis.
The notion that her dog's death had marked a tipping point "made complete sense," she said. "When you're already kind of upset about other things, it's like a brick on a scale. I mean, everything just weighs on you."
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