Heart attacks can be very sudden. One day your loved one is living a normal life. The next you're wondering if he or she will survive. That's one of the reasons why heart attacks are so devastating for spouses.
Marcia and Jeff Darner are smiling now. But it's been a stressful summer. Jeff suffered a heart attack on July 15.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and I just wasn't feeling right. I had discomfort between my shoulder blades," Jeff said.
Marcia encouraged Jeff to go to the hospital. As a clinical manager at Sanford Heart Hospital, she knew the signs of a possible heart attack, but the suddenness still surprised her.
"I think initially there's that fear of the unknown, that, wow, this happened out of the blue and it can happen again," Marcia said.
That's one of the reasons researchers believe people whose spouses suffer heart attacks have an increased risk of anxiety, depression or suicide, even if their loved one survives.
"You feel guilty if you do feel a little bit worried yourself because you should be worried about them," Marcia said.
With heart disease being the number one killer in America, the Darners are definitely not alone, and it's not just the spouses who are impacted.
"Depression is very common after heart attacks and major heart surgical procedures. And there's a lot of support groups and events in town for those patients and families," Sanford Cardiology Medical Director Dr. Tom Stys said.
Doctor Stys also says it can help the patient and spouse if they both get involved in the recovery process.
"Cardiac rehabilitation is extremely important. Make it a point to go out on a bike ride as a family, make it a point to go to the gym together," Stys said.
That's something the Darners are doing after a sudden life change.
"I feel like Jeff is a young man. We're a young couple and just realizing we need to really reset our priorities and make sure we're doing absolutely the best we can to ensure our longevity," Marcia said.
A study in the European Heart Journal emphasizes the importance of caring for the partners of heart attack sufferers.