Actress Continues to Shine After Heart Attack

Feb 1, 2024


Quick thinking from loved ones and her care team may have saved actress Dot-Marie Jones’ life.

Dot-Marie Jones considers herself an active person, so when she started feeling a burning sensation in her chest after light exercise in late 2019, she had cause for concern.

“I’m not very sedentary,” says the 60-year-old actress, “but suddenly after walking maybe 50 feet, I felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath.”

Several doctors told Jones that she had adult-onset asthma and prescribed inhalers, but the diagnosis didn’t seem right to her. In January 2020, her wife, Bridgett Casteen, stepped in. “She said, ‘Dot, you don’t look good — you look gray,’” Jones recalls. “Then she told me we were making an appointment with Dr. Nguyen right away.”

Acting fast

Thanh Nguyen, DO, an interventional cardiologist at Adventist Health Simi Valley, says that when Jones and Casteen visited his office, his first step was to order a stress test. “In the middle of the appointment, she walked to the restroom, maybe 25 feet away, and she was severely out of breath when she returned,” he says. “I canceled the stress test and told her we needed to get to the emergency room right away.”

At the hospital, Dr. Nguyen did an angiogram, which uses X-ray imaging to visualize heart vessels. “She had a severe blockage of one of the main arteries of her heart,” he says. “She was having a heart attack.”

Jones’ blockage was in her left anterior descending artery, commonly known as the widow-maker. This artery is responsible for nearly half of the blood pumped by the heart, meaning an obstruction can be deadly.

Read More: Understanding and Preventing the Widow-Maker Heart Attack

Because Jones was already in the hospital, emergency providers were able to quickly get her to Adventist Health Simi Valley’s cardiac catheterization lab. There, Dr. Nguyen used state-of-the-art imaging technology to guide a catheter through her artery to clear the buildup and place a stent, a small mesh tube that keeps the artery open.

Jones says she immediately felt relief after the procedure. “I didn’t realize how bad I felt until Dr. Nguyen opened up my artery,” she says. And because the procedure was done through a small incision, she was able to go home to her family the next day.

Healing the heart

Once she was home, recovery began. Jones says that while she and her family ate healthfully before her heart attack, she has been more conscious of her lifestyle choices in the years since.

“It’s just about portion control and being smart about what you’re eating. We eat red meat less, and we have chicken, fish or soy protein more,” she says. Also, preparing for a dance-heavy role in an off-Broadway production of Rock of Ages in the months after her heart attack helped her stay active.

Besides eating well and exercising, another option Dr. Nguyen often recommends to his patients is cardiac rehabilitation. “People often feel scared to exercise after a heart attack, but it’s important to strengthen your heart muscle,” he explains. “With cardiac rehab, your progress is monitored by nurses, so it’s a safer environment to regain your strength.”

Living with gratitude

Four years later, Jones reflects with gratitude on the quick turn of events surrounding her heart attack. “If I had stayed home that day, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” she says. “I thank God every day for Dr. Nguyen and his team, and for Bridgett. I am so grateful that she was my advocate.”

Jones says she sometimes feels a twinge or small pain and remembers the discomfort leading up to her emergency. “You never expect to have a heart attack, so now, every little thing can feel like you’re about to have another one,” she explains. But she takes solace in knowing that she is doing everything right to care for her heart, including regular visits to Dr. Nguyen to ensure her blood pressure and cholesterol levels are where they should be. “I’m just staying on top of it,” she says. “I have a second chance, and I’m thankful for that.”