Rosie O’Donnell opens up about ignoring the signs of a heart attack

Says not seeking immediate medical help was 'stupidest' decision of her life

Rosie O’Donnell opens up about ignoring the signs of a heart attack
26 October 2012

Rosie O’Donnell says the ‘stupidest’ decision she ever made in her life was not calling for emergency help when she feared she might be having a heart attack last August.

It turns out she was having one – the kind that usually kills people. Somehow she survived despite an artery being 99 percent blocked.

‘I did not call 9-1-1 and I should have,’ she said this week on the syndicated Dr. Oz Show. ‘I’ve come to find out that 50 percent of women while having heart attacks and suspecting they’re having a heart attack do not call 9-1-1. And it was the stupidest decision I ever made in my life.’

O’Donnell came to find out that she had the heart attack early in the morning and it was not until a full day-and-a-half that she went to the doctor.

‘I thought it was the flu,’ she explained. ‘When I went to the doctor I did not expect them to say, ‘You’re going over to the hospital and you’re having a stent put in.’

That morning, she and her wife, Michelle Rounds, went to a shopping mall and encountered a woman stuck in her car – a woman O’Donnell estimates was somewhere between 400 and 500 pounds.

‘I went to help her and it was a lot more difficult than I had imagined, she didn’t really have the strength to help me help her. But I got her up and helped her to her walker and went about my merry way. Two hours later, I had severe pain in both biceps and I had pain in my right breast. And I thought it must be pulled muscles.’

She went about her day, painting with her son and visiting her therapist. While at the therapist’s office, they Googled heart attack symptoms and they concluded it was probably just panic.

She got home and found herself feeling more tired than she had ever been in her life.

‘So tired that walking up the stairs to the bedroom felt like Mount Everest,’ she said.

She took a three-hour nap then joined her family for dinner. She ate a few crackers and told them she really didn’t feel good and thought she might be having a heart attack. She went back upstairs and vomited.

‘It did not feel like the stomach flu or after a night of too much drinking in college. It felt like out of nowhere almost like your body saying: ‘Warning!’

But she still did not seek medical attention. Instead, Rounds gave her four aspirin then O’Donnell fell asleep.

‘At what point do you prioritize your own health?’ O’Donnell now wonders. ‘If it was Michelle, if it was one of my children, I would have been at the hospital within 20 minutes. I wouldn’t have listened to them of they protested, I would have said, ‘Get in the car!’

O’Donnell is now on a plant-based diet and walking for at least 30 minutes a day. She admits that in the months leading up to the heart attack, she had been overeating mostly junk food to deal with the stress of Rounds’ illness. Her wife, who she married last June, had surgery to remove desmoid tumors, a rare and potentially fatal disease that took some time to diagnose.

‘I think that my heart finally said, ‘I protest. I give up. You need to take care of me.’ It was my heart screaming to my body,’ O’Donnell says. ‘This heart attack forced me into my body and to be conscious of my body in a way that I have never been able to get to.’

‘If you want to participate in this thing called life, this gift called life, you gotta take better care of yourself. … There’s nothing that makes you want to live more than being that close to death.’

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