Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

Fit and Healthy

January 20, 2015

There was seemingly little reason for me to have a heart attack. Good health, medically controlled hypertension, cholesterol in the 130/140 range, and a competitive racquetball and tennis player. I played 10 hours of one or the other every week, in addition to lifting and cardio. And still, SCAD got me!

I was by myself in my vacation home in Northern Wisconsin, early one morning, drinking coffee and catching up on the news. I ran upstairs to get more coffee and was winded doing so – never happened before. My chest began to feel tight, not particularly painful, just uncomfortable. I felt “off”. This continued for 45 minutes or so during which time I researched the symptoms and came to find out that heart attacks present much differently in women than in men. I decided to drive to the hospital to see what was up.

When I got there, blood pressure was up but everything else looked pretty normal. They’d done a blood draw, and I needed to wait 4 hours for the results. In the intervening time, the ER doctor was talking to me assuring me that it was highly unlikely that I’d had any kind of heart event, but they were being cautious. Four hours later, the troponin results were in and I was in the back of an ambulance being taken to a regional cardiac center.

Long story somewhat shorter, after a cardio cath and other tests, and a couple nights in the hospital, I was diagnosed with an nSTEMI heart attack caused likely by stress or by a piece of plaque coming loose, and causing a vasospasm. This, even though there was no evidence of atherosclerosis anywhere in the arteries. Left with lots of medication and instructions to find a cardiologist when I returned home to California.

Four doctors and incorrect diagnoses later, a doctor at Stanford identified my heart attack cause as SCAD. In order to confirm the diagnosis, a CT angiogram was recommended – the insurance company didn’t believe that it was necessary so I paid out of pocket. With the CT angio in hand, I headed to Mayo Clinic, where SCAD was subsequently confirmed by Dr. Sharonne Hayes and her team at Mayo. I was taken off all meds except those types that I was already on, pre-MI to control blood pressure and cholesterol.

I’m extraordinarily lucky that I was able to be seen by a number of physicians and was able to afford to pay for the necessary tests myself. My SCAD was 8 months ago, and I’m back to playing competitive racquetball and tennis and working out. I’m dedicated to helping other women have access to the care and diagnostic protocols that they need to arm themselves against all heart disease, and especially SCAD.

In order to improve the statistics regarding initial diagnoses and ensuing protocols for treatment, much education needs to be done. Starting with individual women to alert them to the signals of cardiac disease and events, and running all the way through emergency care providers, general practitioners, cardiologists, and rehab specialists. SCAD is a rare subset of the much larger set of heart issues, and it’s understandable why it is missed so often. Through groups such as SCAD Research, SCAD Alliance, and WomenHeart, we can continue to spread the word and educate.

Thanks for listening,