Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

My Story – Cardiac Recovery Nurse & SCAD Survivor

October 11, 2017

On November 23, 2010, I noticed I had a right sided facial droop while brushing my teeth, and couldn’t hold water in my mouth. I showed my husband, who brought me to the ER. This was not the beginning of my story, though. I am a registered nurse, actually a cardiovascular RN, since 2005. My husband and i have a daughter, Kiley, born 2008 with no complications. I delivered our second child, Ethan, 10 days prior, also without complications. I had pretty significant back pain in the days leading up to my ER visit, which i thought was from labor. I also, embarrassingly, had left jaw pain that extended into my radial pulse site. I thought this was anxiety. I even told my family that if I weren’t a healthy 30 year old, I would think I was having a heart attack. I am a cardiac recovery nurse, but I ignored my symptoms until I thought I was having a stroke!

At the hospital, i was evaluated, had a chest x ray, labs, and an EKG. While I was in radiology for my x-ray, two of my coworkers arrived to tell me I was going to the heart lab. I’m not sure what came over me, but I began to panic immediately. I don’t know if I knew all along that something was wrong or if the idea of going to the cath lab, as a patient, scared me. Despite their best efforts and my husband’s efforts, I could not be consoled. I woke up and ICU and was told I had a heart attack, my EKG showed ST-elevation, and troponin was elevated. My cardiologist told me I had a thrombus in my left anterior descending artery, which he aspirated to restore blood flow. I stay the night in ICU and the next day was transferred to telemetry.

Over the next few days in the hospital, neurology and hematology was consulted. The neurologist diagnosed me with Bell’s palsy secondary to the myocardial infarction. The hematologist ran extensive tests to rule out clotting disorders including Factor V Leiden. Her testing showed no evidence of any hematological influence. The day before Thanksgiving, I began to have severe jaw pain, again extending to my wrist, causing severe radio pulsatile pain. My teeth hurt and we’re tight almost like I had food caught between each and every tooth. The pain was so bad that I kept checking to see if my teeth were falling out. Thankfully my cardiologists was present during this episode. I was immediately transferred back to the ICU. This was the last episode if symptoms. I was transferred back to telemetry, all tests were normal all EKGs were normal, I was being prepared for discharge the following day.

That night I could not sleep. My husband and I stayed up, fearing the uncertainty that was to come. I was scared to go home. Something inside of me told me that when I went home something would happen. My fear was that my two and a half year old little girl would find me dead. The next day, my husband informed my cardiology group that I was not going home until I had another heart cath. We refuse to leave the hospital until my coronary arteries were reevaluated by angiogram. The cardiologists agreed with us and I was to have another heart cath later that afternoon. Some sort of peace came over me, and I decided that whatever happened, we had made the best choice for me and my family.

After 5 that afternoon, December 1st 2010, during my 2nd heart cath, coronary dissection was found. I was placed on a balloon pump, transferred to ICU, and prepped for emergency coronary artery bypass. I required sedation because I was so upset. I saw my husband and my parents, but I did not get to see my children before surgery. My co-workers did the best they could to comfort me as they prepared me for something that I had prepared so many patients for before. In this instance I realized how fragile life was, I felt like I was having a nightmare.

I woke up intubated and I see you the next day, with chest tubes, and quickly realized that it was not a nightmare. I was told I had coronary artery bypass x 3 vessels due to a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. Over the next few days I learned that this condition was likely due to pregnancy, and advised not to have anymore children. This was devastating, but I was thankful to have to chance to raise the 2 beautiful children I have.

Nearly 7 years later, I feel healthy, but have not been without illness. In late 2014, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins lymphoma. I completed chemotherapy late 2015, and still have no evidence of cancer. In 2016, I was told I had viral meningitis, which was without complications. I have been approached by a geneticist wanting to test me for Ehlers Danlos, which I declined. I only hope awareness can be brought to this condition, and complications be reduced in the future.