Cardiac rehab benefits young woman heart attack survivor in more ways than one

Mar 7, 2023

Patient’s message to other women: ‘Listen to your body, keep going, triumph’

Juanita Sawchak works to strengthen her heart and body during her Cardiac Rehab session at Baptist Health Link.
Juanita Sawchak works to strengthen her heart and body during her Cardiac Rehab session at Baptist Health Link.

(San Antonio, TX) – Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined and yet only 44 percent of women recognize that cardiovascular disease is their greatest health threat (Source: American Heart Association). This Women’s History Month, Juanita Sawchak, wants to remind women to listen to their bodies because she knows from experience that the symptoms of a heart attack in women are not the same as they are in men. She says that life after a heart attack is not the end of the world. At 52 years young, Sawchak survived a heart attack in October 2022 and sees it as an opportunity for a fresh start at a healthy life going forward. She is doing everything her healthcare team at Baptist Health System advises including a Cardiac Rehab program she faithfully engages in at Baptist’s Health Link Rehabilitation Center at North Central Baptist Hospital, the same hospital where she was told in the ER she was having a heart attack last year. Now she wants to share her story to help empower other women with information that could save their lives.

“All I felt was a pinching pain on my left forearm, Sawchak recalls. The pain was sharp enough to wake her up at 2 a.m. on Oct. 13. “I thought I’d just slept on my arm so I took an Ibuprofen and went back to bed,” she said. Later that morning, she drove her 11-year-old son, Wesley III, to school and went on to work. After several meetings, at around 10 a.m., she said the pain returned and had intensified. She felt fatigued. Sawchak said her husband encouraged her to call her doctor. With no clinic appointments available that day, she decided to drive herself to the nearest ER at North Central Baptist Hospital.

“The next thing I knew, the nurses and doctors were telling me I was having a heart attack. I was in shock,” Sawchak said. “I had no chest pain, no dizziness, no nausea, no fainting; just that gnawing pain in my arm,” she said. “How could it be a heart attack?” But it was. “That’s why they call it the Silent Killer,” she said.

On Nov. 2, three weeks after her heart attack, Sawchak celebrated her 53rd birthday and said she is grateful to be alive. Now, nearly five months after her heart attack, Sawchak is nearing completion of a 6-month-long cardiac rehabilitation program through Health Link at North Central Baptist and has dropped more than 30 pounds. She says the program is not only helping her to regain her heart and body strength and endurance, but also her confidence.

Juanita Sawchak and her son, Wesley Jr., enjoy the S.A. Stock Show & Rodeo in February 2023.
Juanita Sawchak and her son, Wesley III., enjoy the S.A. Stock Show & Rodeo in February 2023.

“I was hesitant at first about cardiac rehab, but I’m grateful to be able to do this,” she said. “It makes me feel stronger and more self-assured about my health.” One month after her heart attack, Sawchak took a big step and drove her and her son to Cowboys Stadium in Dallas to attend a football game between TCU, where her daughter is an alumna, and Kansas State University. “It felt like a big accomplishment for me. We enjoyed ourselves, made memories and I was able to climb the stairs and felt fine,” she said.

Since then, Sawchak has worked her way back to enjoying more activities with family and friends including this year’s San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo festivities. Cardiac rehab is a medically supervised outpatient program that includes exercise training, counseling and education for heart-healthy living. The program is designed to help individuals recover from a heart attack and other forms of heart disease or surgery.

Erica Pearce, PT, cardiac rehab manager at Baptist Health Link, said the goals of cardiac rehab include creating a plan to help patients regain strength, avoid worsening of heart conditions, reduce the risk of future heart problems, and improve overall quality of life. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend cardiac rehabilitation programs.

Sawchak is looking forward to completing her cardiac rehab program and says it will help her continue her healthy habits for a lifetime so she can stay healthy for herself and her family.

This Women’s History Month and every day, she urges other women to know their heart health history and their risk, to listen to their bodies, to take care of themselves and to call 911 if they think they or a loved one might be having a heart attack. She also reminds them that if they have had a heart attack, cardiac rehab can help them stay the course for a healthy future long term.

For more information about the Cardic Rehab program at Baptist Health Link, visit

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