Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

Still Ticking

February 22, 2023

March 28, 2018 started a little slower than most mornings at our house. Jim had already headed off to work. The kids were on spring break and 4-year-old Claire had her bestie over for their first-ever sleepover. I was starting to pack for a last minute, quick family trip to the Galena/Dubuque area the following day. My normal morning cup of coffee was probably on its third reheat when the girls decided they wanted to “brunch” at a favorite local restaurant with Mickey Mouse pancakes. As we got ready to go, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling like myself.
My first “symptom”was a wave of nauseousness followed by dry heaving. Strange, I thought, but I chalked it up to only drinking some coffee that morning. Then both of my arms started to go numb and I felt lightheaded and my skin was “clammy.”
I called my doctor, he was on Spring Break and his office was referring everyone to the ER. Ugh, I thought, not the ER. No one would go to the ER for this. So, I sat down, called Claire’s friend’s mom, and figured the strange feelings might just pass.
I was wrong. Claire’s friend’s mom, a nurse, came over and took one look at me and said, we should go to at least the urgent care. We were at the urgent care for about 5 minutes when we were directed to the ER. By this point, I was just so tired. I could barely keep my eyes open.
Upon arrival at the ER, I had a chest x-ray, got some fluids, a urine test, and lab work taken. I had trouble getting to my phone to even let Jim know what was going on. Everything “looked normal,” but I was still exhausted. I could barely stay awake. The ER doctor was sympathetic, but my test results were not pointing to much of a diagnosis. It was pretty much concluded that I was having a panic attack and should follow-up with my family doctor next week.
The ER doctor let me rest and came back one more time to talk to me before preparing discharge papers. I don’t really remember what he said or what I said, but those next moments saved my life. Our conversation was short. He didn’t like that I wasn’t “perking” back up and I just kept saying I was super tired. Jim even chimed in and said something was definitely wrong because “Kim never stops, especially not in the middle of the day.” The ER doctor said, “let’s do one more round of blood work and I’d like to have a cardiologist come talk to you.”
I remember thinking, “a cardiologist?” But, I was honestly too tired to process his reasoning. So, in walks my cardiologist, a jovial man with a dry sense of humor like mine. Little did I know at the time, I’d be seeing a lot more of him in the following months.
Soon after our short introduction, alarms in the ER started going off. Little did I know they were for me. My jovial cardiologist quickly came back in with a more serious face this time and gave me a quick overview of a place called the “cath lab.” He said we needed to go there as soon as the team was assembled. He said he did not perform the procedure, but would see me after. I remember him asking if I understood and I nodded “yes,” but I had zero clue what was coming next. I was still totally exhausted, but awake. I was given some drugs to relax me and put me in a twilight state. I remember hearing, feeling, and smelling everything around me, but not really being able to process anything. I remember a sweet nurse wiping a single tear from my eye as they transferred me from my ER bed to the cath lab table. She held my hand as we waited for the procedure to begin.
My new cardiologist, who was skilled in the procedure, announced that he was just going to take a look at my heart. He was in a mask and gown when I met him, so I never got to actually see his face. He said, if he saw something wrong, he would fix it right there. He made it all sound so simple, so straight forward. After about 20 minutes, he indicated to me that he was going to step away and confer with his colleagues. I had zero clue that most cardiologists at the hospital that day were watching my procedure from behind a mirror. The cardiologist came back and reported that he was going to fix my heart with a stent. I’m not sure he explained any more at that time. I just closed my eyes.
I was transferred to the CICU after my procedure. There were alarms on my bed and I had to lay still and not stand up for 24 hours. My kids could not come visit me, which was probably for the best. I was hooked up to a lot of machines for monitoring purposes. Nurses came in and out of my room to make sure I was comfortable while commenting on my “unique cardiac event” and letting me know they had been reading up on my case. No one said the words “heart attack” or used the acronym SCAD during the first days of my recovery.
Before I was released from the hospital, my once again jovial cardiologist came to talk with me about cardiac rehab, my new medications, and the elephant in the room, the spontaneous coronary artery dissection that resulted in my micro heart attack.
My SCAD took place in my left anterior descending artery (LAD) or widow-maker, creating a long, narrow 85-90% blockage. My heart never stopped completely and overall, there was minor damage to my heart.
I was one of the lucky ones. I honestly did not and still have not fully processed, even with the help of mental health professionals, how differently my SCAD story could have ended. The enormity of those thoughts encourage and haunt me all at the same time. And over time, I’ve learned thinking in “what ifs” is not the most productive route for me. Instead, I try use my story and my voice to spread awareness and maybe help someone else advocate for his/her own health and well-being.
Today, I live a “pretty normal life.” I take daily medications, take lots of walks (my primary recommended form of exercise), work part-time, volunteer, travel, and continue to raise my three kids (now 15, 14, and 9) and care for our dog with my husband.