KANSAS CITY, Kan. (WDAF) — The husband of one of the teachers killed in the Texas elementary school shooting passed away Thursday. The family says they believe Irma Garcia’s husband Joe died of a broken heart.
University of Kansas Health System cardiologist Dr. Travis Love said “Broken Heart Syndrome” is a genuine medical response.
The family of Joe and Irma Garcia says just minutes after Joe returned home from visiting the memorial to his wife and the rest of the victims at Robb Elementary, he began experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack. The high school sweetheart of the 46-year-old later died.
Love didn’t treat Garcia and didn’t know his medical history. But he estimates the hospital sees about 50 broken heart syndrome patients a year, medically known as stress cardiomyopathy.
“It affects people in great emotional stress or physical stress and can mimic a heart attack and in really unfortunate times can even lead to death,” Love said.
Broken heart syndrome was first identified in the 1990s and has been studied ever since.
“It’s believed there’s a surge of catecholamines or neurotransmitters that happen in these times of emotional stress or financial stress or even physical stress, and that surge affects certain parts of the heart, causing them to work inefficiently and your heart to not pump like it should,” Love said.
It has the greatest effect on postmenopausal women but can affect anyone, usually over the age of 40.
“It’s treated like a heart attack from the very beginning symptoms present with chest discomfort, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue,” Love said.
And it could be a heart attack with stress-causing blockages in the arteries to rupture. Dr. Love says stress cardiomyopathy and heart attacks have similar mortality rates. So he says it’s important to watch for symptoms of friends or loved ones experiencing loss. Though preparing for how you react to grief may be difficult.
“Your ability to handle stress and deal with stress is important, and I think focusing on that in these times is the smart thing to do. I just don’t know that it’s always as easily practiced,” Love said.
Love said many people might just chalk up chest pain or shortness of breath when grieving to a typical adrenaline response. But it’s best to get it checked out to make sure it’s not a heart weakness that needs treatment.