Virtua patient Denise Davis and Cardiologist Hafeza Shakh, DO

Denise Davis: Pay Attention to Your Heart Health

Denise Davis was working the overnight shift at the Burlington County Jail, where she was a sergeant and supervisor, when she stepped outside to take a smoke break.

“I went for a couple of puffs and I felt really weird. I went to the clinic in the jail and told the nurse I didn’t feel well. She took my blood pressure, and she said, ‘I think you’re having a heart attack.’ I thought she was lying. All I needed to do was relax,” said Denise. “So I went and sat down. The nurse took my pressure again, and it was even higher. She said, ‘You have to go to the hospital.’ Reluctantly, I let another officer drive me to the hospital. When I got there, they said I had less than an hour of oxygen left in my body.”

Tests at Virtua Willingboro Hospital confirmed Denise was indeed having a heart attack, and she was transported to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital for more intensive treatment. A cardiac catheterization determined all four arteries feeding her heart with oxygen-rich blood were blocked. Doctors performed quadruple bypass surgery to restore proper blood flow.

Seven weeks after surgery, Denise returned to the county jail, a place she saw as an outlet for her outgoing personality.

“I liked helping the inmates,” she said. “I liked helping the other officers.”

Five years after her heart attack and now retired, the Willingboro resident wants others in the community to pay attention to their heart health.

Reducing Her Risk

Denise attributes her heart attack to an 18-year smoking habit and diabetes. While both are risk factors for a heart attack, Denise said she never thought about heart disease—even when she began to experience worrisome symptoms.

“For a couple of days before the attack, I would have little bouts of chest pain, but I blew it off as exhaustion,” she said. “I’d never had any heart problems.”

Denise said she quit smoking on the spot, and continues to work on managing her diabetes , blood pressure, and cholesterol through medication, a Mediterranean-style diet, and exercise. She also sees her doctor regularly to make sure she’s on the right track.

She admits recovering from the heart attack was difficult, even with the cardiac rehab and other support she received.

“She was in tears for the first five appointments. She was depressed and anxious and not feeling like she was getting better,” said Hafeza Shaikh, DO, MBA, Denise’s cardiologist. “She’s like a different person now.”

“I didn’t know what was going to happen to me,” said Denise. “The nursing staff and Dr. Shaikh said I was going to bounce back from this.”

Daily Reminder

Having turned the corner, Denise enjoys spending time with her three children and their families. She looks forward to volunteering and traveling.

What’s not on the agenda are the bad habits that could lead to another heart attack.

“I have a scar down my chest that reminds me every day,” she said. “If you ever think of smoking again, you will think about the pain.”

Test Your Heart Smarts!

Are your lifestyle choices good for your heart, or are there habits you can change to keep your ticker going strong? Take our heart quiz to find out.

Updated May 18, 2022

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