Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

SCAD — Lots of Questions, No Answers

April 9, 2013

Hello, my name is Cathy, I had a heart attack due to SCAD on January 4, 1994. I was sitting on the sofa, feeding my baby, my 2 other children were playing with all their new toys from Santa. The holidays were winding down and there was an ice storm outside, we were having fun, just enjoying being trapped inside, we stayed in our pajamas, no plans on going out that day. I got a sudden shortness of breath and a chest pain. I tried to blow it off, then my left arm started to hurt, I thought that my baby was getting heavy, so I finished feeding him and put him down. Then I remember feeling like I had a toothache, then started to have an anxiety attack. I broke out in a cold sweat and felt nausea. I started getting upset that I couldn’t get the anxiety attack under control. I tried to relax and deep breath, I was trying to calm down, but couldn’t. My mom called me on the telephone, I told her what was happening, I was hoping that if I talked with her for a few minutes, I would feel better. I was familiar with anxiety attacks and talking to someone helped me calm down. Finally my mom said, “Call the ER and just tell them your symptoms, then call me right back.” I did, I told them my symptoms and they suggested that I come get checked, they said, “It sounds like angina.” I had no idea what angina was at that time. I called my mom back and told her they want me to go over, but it’s so lousy out, I don’t think I should go out. I was going to be OK, I just need to relax, and I would call her back. She said, “Do me a favor and just let them check you. I’m going to call Joe (my brother) and ask him to go over your house to watch the kids.” You know moms they have a way of making you listen to them.

Next thing I know I’m on my way to the hospital, kinda mad, I didn’t think this was necessary, I complained the whole way. When I arrived at the ER and told them that I had called and was told to come over to get checked for angina, they took me right back. I was still feeling weird being in the ER, I didn’t think I needed to be there. I just wanted to get back home.

A cardiologist came in to talk to me, he said that I was having a heart attack. I didn’t know anything about heart attacks other than what I saw on television, the person grabs their chest and falls down, the end. I asked him if I was going to die? He said no, I was going to be fine. I didn’t believe him. I laid there thinking, I can’t believe I’m going to die here at Frankford Hospital’s ER. He gave me a shot of TPA and asked the nurse to give me a shot of morphine, I thought that’s it, I’m done, that’s what they give to patients before they pass away. I was scared, I didn’t want to be in the hospital, I wanted to be home with my children.

I was transferred to another hospital, had a catherization the next day, which showed 90% blockage, they put me on IV Heperine for 5 days, then took me down for another catherization, which showed 20% blockage. The doctor didn’t have an explanation, I had a lot of questions. I was glad to get back home, but I was nervous, I didn’t really know what or why it happened, I didn’t like having to take all this new medicine, my life had just changed and I didn’t know where to begin, I just had to do what the doctors suggested and live as normally as I could. But there was a natural fear that was instilled inside of me. I call it the fear of the unknown. I felt like I was in a dream that this really didn’t happen to me.

A month later, I started having the same symptoms, I went to the ER and was told my enzymes and EKG were acting up. I was admitted and transferred to the other hospital again. This time the doctor said when they do the catherization they were going to do an angioplasty while there were in there. My thoughts were, good they know what’s wrong this time and they are going to fix the problem. I wanted to get rid of the fear of dying from a heart attack.

Finally, I was getting a catherization and angioplasty, and it will all be over soon. During the catherization, the doctors stopped, other doctors came in to look at my films. I was laying thinking, is this normal, do they usually stop and discuss each case? When are they going to get back over here and finish? It felt like a very long time before the doctor came back over and said, “That’s it, we’re finished.” I was thinking that was good, there was no blockage and I am fine. I can go home.

After the nurses made me comfortable, the doctor came to talk to me about the catherization. He said there was a flap, he explained that the artery is made of three layers of skin, which separated and collapsed, causing a MI. He said if he would have done an angioplasty, it would have torn the whole artery. He had to stop. He said it was very rare for this to happen. There really was nothing he could do, we have to hope it knits itself back together by putting me on nitroglycerin pills. (hoping that would open the artery and put pressure against each layer in hopes that it would heal itself). That was when I was told it was from the hormones during pregnancy, and it would be best that I didn’t get pregnant again. I cried, I was more upset being told not to have anymore babies, then being told I had a rare heart condition.

I tried all I could to find information about Post-Partum Coronary Artery Dissection, I did get information from NORD, which wasn’t very promising, it mentioned about 5 women who needed heart transplants, but most were found in autopsies. The chances of finding another person who survived would be slim. I gave up looking after a few years. They were right, until last May, 2012, I did find another person, in fact, I found a lot of people on SCAD Survivors FB site. I haven’t been the same since. It was so surreal for me, I felt like I had to help in some way to get the information out to others, feeling alone all them years was scary, I don’t want anyone to go through that alone, I am very thankful for finding this group.

Two years later, I ended up in the ER again, diagnosed with Ventricular Tachycardia, I had EPS studies and was told my own adrenaline can make it worse. I believe this was caused from the heart damage from the MI. This is scary for me and forced me to learn how to relax and listen to my body. I was put on a beta-blocker to control the irregular heartbeats, which makes my already low blood pressure even lower. I did learn how to control it the best I can.

I was given false information, I was told as long as I didn’t get pregnant, it wouldn’t happen again. Now, with the new information and other survivors stories, I learned it can happen from other causes. I thought I would never have to worry about having another SCAD since I am almost through menopause, only to learn that menopause can cause SCAD. But, at least I am aware and will not let it scare me anymore. Well, I’ll try not to let it. Having the support of others and knowledge made a big difference for me. I can’t thank Katherine and Laura enough for not giving up, like I did. I pray that Dr. Sharonne Hayes is successful with her research. I promised myself that I will spread awareness and ask for donations for as long as I can. I believe this is not as rare as previously believed and awareness and knowledge will make a difference in the cure against heart disease. Thank you for reading my story & Bless Your Heart!!