For Texas dog lover Joanie Simpson, the loss of her beloved Yorkie Meha was almost more than she could bear.
She suffered what doctors at first believed to be a heart attack, but later determined was a rare condition known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – or broken-heart syndrome. The phenomenon, which mimics the symptoms of a heart attack, usually occurs in the wake of an extreme emotional event such as the loss of a child or spouse.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 states that Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is caused by a flood of stress hormones that “stun” the heart into producing painful, frightening spasms.
At the time of her hospitalization, Simpson was dealing with several difficult life changes including a complicated property sale and family financial and medical concerns. But none of these issues compared to losing Meha.
Simpson described the 9-year-old dog as “like a daughter” to her. After a long battle with congestive heart failure, Meha was having more bad days than good. Simpson booked an appointment to have her put to sleep, but cancelled at the last minute when the dog seemed to rally. The next day, Meha died at home.
“It was such a horrendous thing to have to witness,” Simpson told The Washington Post. “When you’re already kind of upset about other things, it’s like a brick on a scale. I mean, everything just weighs on you.”
The fact that 62-year-old Simpson’s case of broken-heart syndrome was induced by the death of her dog serves as further evidence that the stress of losing a pet can be just as devastating as the grief we suffer at the loss of a human loved one.
A recent study found that pet owners caring for chronically ill animals are susceptible to the extreme stress and anxiety of “caregiver burden,” a notion that does not surprise Simpson at all.
“The kids were grown and out of the house, so she was our little girl.”
Simpson has recovered from her frightening ordeal, although she must now take heart medication. She has yet to open her heart and home to another dog, but she is looking and says the inevitable grief is worth the joy that comes with having a pet.
“It is heartbreaking. It is traumatic. It is all of the above,” Simpson said. “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.”