Sherry Hollingsworth nearly collapsed at her aunt's funeral. The death itself had rattled her, but not nearly as much as the chest pressure that struck that day and the diagnosis that eventually followed: Hollingsworth had a broken heart.
Forget the clichés. This isn't the story of a woman metaphorically dying inside. Half of Hollingsworth's heart literally stopped pumping blood, and an otherwise healthy 50-year-old woman was soon diagnosed with the very real -- and increasingly diagnosed -- condition known as Broken Heart Syndrome.
"I was stunned by that diagnosis because we had expected my aunt's death. It's not like the sudden loss of a parent out of the blue," she said. "That day, I simply had an emotional moment where my heart just poured out for my cousins."
For Hollingsworth, that was enough -- the toxic mixture of intense grief and unrelated work stress produced just the right amount of stress hormones to trigger a condition that's long been either disregarded as the stuff of legend or mistaken for a typical heart attack.
On this Valentine's Day, Dr. Ilan Wittstein, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, reflects on what he's learned from treating hundreds of these "broken hearts" -- Hollingworth's included.
First, he answers the age-old question: Can a broken heart kill you? "Yes. Absolutely,'" Wittstein said. "But that's also pretty rare."