Chilling Medical Dramas: The Dinner That Almost Killed Her

One bite of chow mein changed this woman's entire life

chinese food takeout

The hotel was booked, the bags were packed, and Cynthia Royal headed out with her mother, Joan, for a vacation-kickoff dinner. The women were flying to Walt Disney World that evening, right before the Fourth of July, 2004. But after one bite of chicken chow mein, Cynthia felt ill; within hours, she was feverish and vomiting. Still, she boarded the plane. There was no way Cynthia was going to let a stomach bug keep her from going on this much-anticipated vacation. But the 45-year-old spent the entire two-hour flight with her head planted on her tray table. Joan played nursemaid the next day as Cynthia was too sick to leave the hotel room.

Then, the second night, at 2 a.m., Cynthia couldn’t catch her breath. It felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. She debated what to do for two hours before she gave in to a nagging feeling that her illness was more than just a stomach bug. Cynthia went to a hospital emergency room and had a blood test that helped prove the improbable: She was having a heart attack. The cause: salmonella bacteria from her recent bout of food poisoning.

Most people associate salmonella with diarrhea and dehydration. But in extremely rare cases, the bacteria breach the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream, where they can latch onto arterial plaque, form clots, and block blood flow to the heart. Just days after Cynthia ate the contaminated Chinese food, her heart’s blood supply had been choked off.

Cynthia was treated with clot-busting drugs, given a month’s supply of antibiotics, and discharged the next day. Once home, she started to feel better, but fatigue made it difficult for her to juggle her job in information technology with her hobby of training horses on her Virginia farm.

Doctors eventually ordered more tests and found that the arteries leading to Cynthia’s heart were badly swollen, restricting blood flow. The swelling was due to lingering inflammation from the salmonella that was exacerbated by an inherited type of high cholesterol. Cynthia needed a double bypass operation, in which blood vessels taken from other parts of the body are used to route blood around blockages.

Cynthia had a lot of time to think while recovering from surgery. When she returned to her IT job, she handed in her resignation, emptied her 401(k), and moved to San Diego, where she now trains and performs with a team of horses. “I really do believe that this whole salmonella encounter had a purpose,” she says. “Today, I’m on my life’s true mission.”

5 of the Most Chilling Medical Dramas Ever:

He Took a Nail Gun to The Heart

She Lost 540 Pints of Blood

The Mystery of the Boy Who Turned Blue

The Dinner That Almost Killed Her

“I Saw Forceps Sticking Out of My Leg”

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you the newsletter each week, and we may also send you occasional special offers from Reader's Digest. For more information please read our privacy policy.

One thought on “Chilling Medical Dramas: The Dinner That Almost Killed Her

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.

Fields marked with an * are required
Foods That Harm Foods That HealWant a Free eBook?
FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL offers important information about the role diet plays in the struggle against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious illnesses. Answer the question below to receive your FREE digital eBook.

Someone in my household experiences the following conditions:

Send me a link to download FOODS THAT HARM, FOODS THAT HEAL:
By clicking below, I agree to the Trusted Media Brands Privacy Policy