It turns out that broken hearts aren’t just a figure of speech.
A 62-year-old woman in Texas has reportedly suffered a clinical broken heart after her beloved dog, a nine-year-old Yorkshire terrier named Meha, passed away in May 2016 due to congestive heart failure. The death of a much-beloved pet can be quite heart-breaking, as many of those who have loved and lost can attest. However, this may be one of the rare times that the death of a pet has resulted in an actual broken heart.
Joanie Simpson woke up the morning after Meha’s death with a horrific backache. When she turned over, her chest started hurting as well. Just 20 minutes later, Simpson was in the emergency room of the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute - Texas Medical Center. Doctors at the facility were prepared to receive a patient exhibiting unmistakable signs of a heart attack. However, upon examining Simpson, the doctors found a different cause for her pains.
Joanie Simpson's heart scans
Doctors diagnosed Simpson with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as the “broken heart syndrome”, a potentially fatal condition. The symptoms of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy are reminiscent of a heart attack, which is why the doctors were geared up to receive a heart attack patient. Usually, Takotsubo cardiomyopathy occurs after the occurrence of an emotional event, like the death of a close family member. Simpson said that Meha had been like a daughter to her, which can explain how devastated she was.
"I really took it really, really hard," Simpson said of Meha’s death.
Simpson’s case has been described in a research paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers say that Simpson’s story is a good example of how extreme sadness can cause physical damage to the human body.
Doctors treated Simpson’s condition with angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitor and a beta-blocker. Upon hearing about her diagnosis and the explanation behind it, Simpson said that it “made perfect sense”, given that she had treated her dog like she would a daughter.
Despite the fact that the condition was potentially fatal, Simpson only stayed at the hospital for two days. She has also had to take two different heart medications, but otherwise, she was reportedly healthy.
The much-loved Meha [Photo by Joanie Simpson]
Other people, however, haven’t been as lucky as Simpson. There had been a case of another Texas woman, this time just 22 years old, who had also suffered Takotsubo cardiomyopathy following the death of her pet dog. This woman’s broken heart, unfortunately, had been fatal.
Simpson’s case is therefore not unique. It is, however, a significant addition to a body of research investigating how the grief for ailing of deceased pets can have a profound effect on humans. The flip side, of course, is the evidence that the presence of pets can cause people to be happier and healthier.
In spite of this experience with loss, however, Simpson has said that she will likely have a dog again in the future. "It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above," says Simpson. "But you know what? They give so much love and companionship that I'll do it again. I will continue to have pets. That's not going to stop me."
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