Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

June 20, 2023

I had retired as a registered nurse consultant in 2018 and was having a glorious time being active and carefree with my husband. We traveled some, did a lot of gardening, hiked, and swam in our pool. I was always bad about going to the doctor, but when I did go, there were no big issues found. Little did I know that those occasional aches and pains, as well as rare tingling in the right hand and arm would lead me to a diagnosis of spontaneous coronary artery dissection, and non-ST elevated acute myocardial infarction.

At the end of January 2023, we had had a fairly stressful day. There was a solar repairman at our house that day and we lost and gained power. I went outside to get the mail and by the time I came back into the house, I had severe, painful tingling in the last 2 fingers on my right hand; it worked its way up the arm. I did not have chest pain right away. I thought I was maybe just tired from working in the house and outside. I took a couple regular aspirin and went to lay down on the couch to sip a ginger ale. That’s when the chest pain started.

I called my husband who was in the basement for help. When he asked me what was wrong, I said that it was either a heart attack or a stroke. Next thing I know, the EMS had arrived, and I was transported with lights and sirens to our area’s best cardiac hospital. I had never really worked on a cardio floor as a nurse but had taken care of some patients who had “typical” heart attack and atherosclerotic plaque. After I had the cardiac cath and was told that my arteries were clear and that my problem was due to SCAD, I had little to no knowledge of what this was about.

I wish that there was more information to impart to patients to understand this condition and maybe to alleviate some of the fear. How does a 67-year-old female who is pretty active end up like this? Now I am taking a beta blocker, 2 other antihypertensives, Lipitor, aspirin, and Synthroid (I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism).

Unfortunately, the medical providers do not see this condition often either. I was congratulated that I did not have blocked arteries but when I asked for specifics about SCAD; several providers honestly told me that they had not had much experience in treating patients with SCAD. I have completed 12 weeks of cardiac rehab and feel great. I have lost weight and increased my stamina. I have learned what to watch out for, but sometimes I am somewhat concerned that the medical professionals treat me pretty much the same as someone who has arterial plaque. Are there any differences that would affect my treatment plan? I am hoping that the research being done now will provide some answers.

Still, in all, life goes on…we will continue. To hope, to live, maybe even thrive. Thanks to all of those who took care of me, and I hope that they continue to learn more about SCAD. Every day is a gift and I have been able to focus more on the light at the end of the tunnel, rather than the darkness.