Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

Biggest Little SCAD Survivor!

March 24, 2017

On a bright and sunny Thursday in April 2015, my husband and I were about to head off to Monterey for a weekend of racing cyclocross and visiting with friends. We never would have even considered that about 30 minutes before leaving we would be calling 911 instead and heading off to the hospital.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was having a heart attack and was quickly sent into the cath lab for a stent soon after arriving at the hospital. Later we learned that I had a dissection in the lower anterior descending artery which caused a complete blockage of the artery and heart attack. It was not known at the time if this was caused by the stent or if the dissection caused the heart attack. Turns out it was the dissection.

When I look back at the week leading up to my heart attack, I realized that I had some classic symptoms coming on. Monday I was exhausted and a little out of sorts. Later that night I was woken up with three episodes of an odd warmth across my shoulder blades and was equally numb or tingly in both arms, felt nervous and it was a little hard to breathe. Tuesday and Wednesday I felt like I was getting the flu. Then on Thursday the big event happened where I felt my arm symptoms again, got nauseous, vomited, and my lips and fingers turned blue. It was definitely time to call 911.

How could this happen to a very athletic and healthy 45 year old without coronary artery disease? I am an avid skier and cyclist. The mother of a 10 year old daughter. It makes no sense. There is no rhyme or reason. Our family, friends, and cycling community were all shaken and confused as to how this could be possible.

Luckily, before I even checked out of the hospital a good friend of mine saw an article on Twitter with the headline “Are you too young to have a heart attack?” and sent it to me. Amazingly, this article talked about spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) and how it affects women in their 40-50s who are recently postpartum, athletes, or cocaine addicts. Athlete fit the bill for me. This led me down a path of research to find the answers to what happened and hopefully why. It has also connected me to a small group of SCAD survivors worldwide on Facebook. I even attended the survivor gathering in San Diego five months after my SCAD event and met 31 other known survivors (one other from Nevada) and participated in the first West Coast SCADaddle 5k for research. I am a SCAD survivor!!!

Social media has been key in supporting and connecting survivors with research, expert information, and others who know exactly how we feel and that this is not just all in our heads. SCAD is scary! You can’t just jump in and make changes in your diet, exercise and quit smoking. I am already living a healthy life. And the scariest thing is that it can happen again. Cardiac rehab is critically important from a mental and physical standpoint, but I was already in good shape and at “graduation level” on Day Two of cardiac rehab. Every week in rehab or at various doctor appointments, I would ask medical professionals how many dissection patients they have seen in their career. Each one would think long and hard about it, and I never really got any clear answers. In other words, not many.

In December 2015, I finally had the guts to call the American Heart Association to reach out and see if they knew of any SCAD Survivors in the area. Unfortunately, the question asked of me was, “What is SCAD?” Thus, here I am to spread the word. I was one of the featured speakers at the AHA Heart Luncheon in Reno in front of 700 people and found a new cardiologist who was actually interested in helping me.

My mission is to educate people about SCAD and to take Heart Attack symptoms seriously, act quickly, and fight for answers. I was very lucky to survive my SCAD event and want to help others do the same. SCAD is a traumatic event to go through because there is no known cause and it can recur. If I can help educate medical professionals and others about SCAD, connect with survivors, and possibly save a life then I have succeeded!

SCAD is real. SCAD does happen. And you can survive SCAD!