Every day, Yolanda Butler gets on the commuter bus from Teaneck, New Jersey, to head to her job as director of Building Operations and Administration at the 92nd Street Y on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Several months ago, during the short walk from the bus stop to her office, she started experiencing a fleeting but painful burning sensation in her chest. “It would hit me, then stop,” says Yolanda, the mom of two boys and a self-described workaholic. But over the next several weeks, the episodes worsened. The pain got more intense and would last for longer periods of time.
She saw her primary care doctor, who suggested she see a gastroenterologist. That doctor thought her symptoms might be reflux, but suggested she rule out the possibility of a heart problem before going further. After all, for men and women alike, the most common symptom of heart attack is chest pain or discomfort. (Women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, including discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach; shortness of breath; or feeling lightheaded, breaking out in a sweat or experiencing unusual fatigue.)
So just before Labor Day, Yolanda saw John Minutillo, MD, a Northwell Health cardiologist and nuclear imaging specialist, for an electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that monitors the heart’s electrical rhythms to check whether arteries are blocked. He also scheduled Yolanda for a stress test—another EKG, this time done while she was exercising, to show how well her heart performed when it had extra demands put on it. “I failed the stress test,” says Yolanda. “So I went back the next day for a stress echocardiogram.” This test allows the doctor to see the heart beating, with images taken right before and after exercise. As Dr. Minutillo watched, he could see that something wasn’t right: There was a blockage in one of the main arteries feeding the heart. “Dr. Minutillo stopped the test,” she says, “and told me to go to the hospital.”
No problem, Yolanda told Dr. Minutillo—she just had to go back to work first to wrap up a few tasks. This time, however, her workaholic tendencies wouldn’t fly. The receptionist took her outside, hailed a cab and told the driver to take her straight to the hospital. She was headed to Lenox Hill Heart & Lung, ranked one of the best hospitals in New York state for bypass surgery.