Heart Attack Survivor Patricia Zaid

Featured Article, Healthy Heart, Heart attack
on February 1, 2012

Twenty years ago, Patricia Zaid, then 47, woke at dawn to searing pain in her chest and bile in her throat.  For months, she’d been short of breath, her chest burning, but emergency room physicians sent her home on three occasions, saying she had a chest cold.   She believed them.  After all, she was thin, young, with no history of heart disease.

That dawn, she called her doctor. Come at nine, he said.  By then the pain was worse, but the doctor reassured Zaid: You’re a young woman.  You’re not having a heart attack. He sent her alone on foot to the hospital next door, where a friend saw her and screamed, horrified by her pallor. That finally got the arriving doctor’s attention.  “I was indeed having a heart attack,” says Zaid. “I had ninety percent blockage in one of my arteries.”

Her response after an angioplasty to clear the artery (and to subsequent angioplasties and a failed heart by-pass) has been to overhaul her life.  She quit her pack-a-day smoking habit, tossed her high-stress trading job, and dropped her tortilla-and-cheese diet, becoming a vegetarian for years. 

She also took up exercise, walking hills until she saw a woman jogging. “I had never seen one jogging before. I had to ask her what she was going.”  When Zaid heard the woman was training for a marathon, she made that her goal as well, running the full Monty three years after her attack, despite breaking her foot on a pothole seven miles in. “All I could picture was my foot in a bucket of ice water.”

Now an administrator for California State-Long Beach, the 67-year-old walks everywhere—to meetings and on errands–averaging at least 25 miles per week. She eats the bounty from local farmer’s markets—carrots, kale, onions, tomatoes.

“Whatever is in season,” she says. “I now have so much better energy and focus. Being stubborn and having a positive attitude is key. But most important is doing for others.”  

Zaid does just that: she co-founded Homeless with Dogs, a nonprofit providing dog food to homeless with pets, work she finds humbling and joyful. She also joined the board of the local American Heart Association, focusing on informing women about heart health.

“I want to give women a voice,” she says, “when it comes to their heart