As the doors flew open and a lab technician pushed her wheelchair into what she assumed was an examination room, Jan Jones wondered why so many people were surrounding her.
The longtime Cleveland, Ohio, television personality had simply felt nauseous, with a sore throat, when she drove herself to Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital on a Monday morning in April 2023. Healthy and active at 77, Jan assumed she had caught a “bug.” Upon realizing one of her symptoms was dry heaving that seemed to emanate from her chest, rather than her stomach, Jan thought there was a slight chance she could be having a heart attack.
“I volunteer with the American Heart Association and remembered a woman’s heart attack doesn’t always present the way you think it would,” recalls Jan. “I know if you think there’s something wrong, don’t wait, go and get it checked out.”
Jan says she's always lived an active lifestyle, including skiing. She was shocked to learn she was experiencing a widowmaker heart attack. (Courtesy: Jan Jones)
Her suspicion was confirmed once she entered a cardiac catheterization laboratory at the hospital. The care team who first examined her in the emergency department quickly realized Jan was indeed undergoing a severe heart attack called an ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), also known as a widowmaker heart attack.
An emergency physician immediately called a “Code Crimson,” which alerted another clinical team, led by interventional cardiologist Jonathan Scharfstein, MD, to assemble posthaste in the cath lab. There, Jan would undergo a lifesaving procedure to break through and open the blocked artery in the heart’s most critical vessel, the left anterior descending coronary artery.
However, Jan knew none of this when Dr. Scharfstein walked up to her as the team was efficiently preparing her for the procedure. According to Jan, he calmly stated they were all there together because Jan was having a heart attack.
Jan is a longtime Cleveland native. She enjoys supporting the Cleveland Guardians with her brother, John, and sister-in-law, Sara. (Courtesy: Jan Jones)
Shocked, and admittedly in denial, Jan asked, “Are you sure?” She remembers Dr. Scharfstein “looked me dead in the eyes, held up the EKG report and said, ‘Yes, you are having a heart attack. And every minute counts!’”
Jan immediately relaxed realizing, “I was in the right place and in very good hands. I had complete confidence. I’m also a woman of strong faith and felt God’s blessings and protection around me.”
Using a long, narrow tube inserted through an artery and snaked up to her heart, Dr. Scharfstein guided a steerable thin wire to the specific area where the left anterior descending coronary artery had abruptly occluded. He inflated a small balloon to clear the obstruction composed of atherosclerotic plaque and blood clot, used a vacuum-like device to remove the debris, and then inserted a stent to scaffold the artery open.
Just 59 minutes after Jan arrived at the hospital, the balloon inflation occurred. The clinical team had completed their “door to balloon” time well within the national guideline maximum of 90 minutes. A few days later, Jan was back home. A few months later, after extensive cardiac rehabilitation, Jan felt back to good health.
Jan has been recognized for her work in the community. Jan with her son, J, receiving the Chagrin Valley Community Builders Award (left). Jan participating in Lifebanc Over the Edge --a fundraiser to raise awareness for the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation (right). (Courtesy: Jan Jones)
Says Dr. Scharfstein, “Time is muscle. The longer blood is blocked from flowing through the heart artery, the greater the possibility some of the heart muscle will die; and when that happens, function doesn’t return to that muscle. That’s why we undertake such a rapid, well-orchestrated ballet and this urgent dash to the cath lab.”
Fortunately, Jan suffered little permanent damage to her heart. Thanks to swift intervention and ongoing use of prescription medication, her heart’s ejection fraction, or measurement of the heart’s ability to pump blood to the body, increased from 34% during her heart attack to 70% after cardiac rehabilitation. Dr. Scharfstein adds, “She has achieved nearly full recovery of her heart function. She’s amazingly active.”
Jan, who throughout her decades-long career co-hosted numerous Cleveland-based TV shows, is all-too familiar with heart health-related issues. Her father experienced a heart attack in his lifetime. Additionally, her late husband, plastic surgeon Dr. Shelly Artz, underwent two heart transplants at Cleveland Clinic. Together they served on the Lifebanc board --an organ procurement organization.
Jan with her late husband Dr. Shelly Artz and their nine grandkids. (Courtesy: Jan Jones)
After his death in 2017, Jan generously donated to Cleveland Clinic in remembrance of Shelly to support heart disease and transplantation research. Additionally, she has volunteered and hosted fundraising events for the American Heart Association and the Transplant House of Cleveland. Speaking about her active lifestyle and the satisfaction she receives in helping others, Jan states, “I tell people I still do exactly what I did when I was working. Except now, I get paid in kindness.”
Her plea to other women, especially those who put the needs and welfare of others before their own well-being, is to not neglect their health. Learn the warning signs of heart attacks in women, which often differ from those of men. Women are less likely to have chest pain or discomfort that feels like indigestion, and are more likely to experience shortness of breath, fatigue and nausea, as well as insomnia that may start well before the heart attack.
“Especially when it comes to health, put yourself first,” says Jan. “Take care of yourself and that means eating healthy, watching your weight, being joyfully active and asking for help when you need it. When you are good to yourself, you can be the best for others.”
Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family)