Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection

What Did You Do Wrong?

April 15, 2018

I’m a healthy 60 year old wedding and party decorator. Every year I provide centerpieces for a big gala that raises money for a Foundation that provides support to incoming freshmen at college who may be contemplating suicide. It’s a worthy cause and I usually do 50-100 centerpieces, with the help of volunteers, depending on the size of the crowd.

On the Friday before the gala, I was gathering boxes of vases so I could wipe them down and count them. After moving them around, I decided to sit down and take a rest before I started working again. I remember it had started snowing, so I got up to take a picture of the April snow to show my children and relatives who live far away.

As I sat down I got a horrible, crushing pain in my chest. I thought, “Uh, oh. I overdid it. If I just sit here for a minute and breathe deeply, it will get better.” It didn’t get better…it got worse. I was having trouble catching my breath. The pain started radiating down my left arm and up into my jaw. As I sat there clutching my chest and trying to “control” the pain and trying to figure out what was going on, I remembered a youtube video I had seen within the last few days. It was the actress Elizabeth Banks, acting out the female symptoms of heart attack. I thought, “This is really similar to that video. I think I’m having a heart attack.” I called my husband at work and just said, “You’ve got to come home. I think I’m having a heart attack.” I waited a few minutes, and then realized, “It’s time to call 911.”

The ambulance came and they immediately began treating me for a heart attack. When I got to the hospital, they treated me for a heart attack and gave me pain killers, but they didn’t do an emergency angioplasty. My numbers were coming back ok, and I had no history of heart disease. Later in the evening my blood work began to show that I actually was having a heart attack. I had an angioplasty the next morning, Saturday. The angioplasty made it clear that I was suffering from SCAD. The pain was excruciating. My head and my chest were experiencing the worst pain I’ve ever had. They told me the Nitro they were giving me caused headaches. They told me later that they put in 5 stents because the artery kept curling.

I recovered well. On Monday morning, my cardiologist said I could probably go home that day. A Physician’s Assistant stopped in to visit with me. I told him I felt fine except for a headache, but they had told me that Nitro causes headaches. He stopped back later in the day, and told me he was concerned that I still had a headache, so he ordered a CAT Scan. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be going home. After my CAT Scan, a neurologist came to visit me and told me that I had suffered a bleed on my brain. I seemed to have no neurological symptoms from this small stroke, but they were nervous because they had given me so many blood thinners that my stroke might get worse and could cause problems. They immediately took me off the blood thinners, which made them nervous about my heart. Kind of a Catch-22. However, if that PA hadn’t insisted on a CAT Scan, I might have been sent home to have a debilitating stroke!

I ended up staying in the hospital for 8 days total, most of them in ICU or ICU step-down. Because SCAD is so rare, I was visited by every cardiologist, intern, student, physician’s assistant and nurse in the hospital. Because my stroke was also spontaneous and rare, I was visited by every neurologist, neurology intern, etc… All I needed was a Spontaneous broken bone and I would have seen all the Ortho’s too!

The worst part of this is that everyone assumes that I’ve done something wrong. “The boxes were too heavy!” I pick up heavier things than those boxes every week! “Your diet must be bad.” My diet has nothing to do with SCAD. “If it’s not physical, maybe it’s mental! Maybe you should see a psychologist?” Really? Really?

I’ve only been home for less than 24 hours, so I’m still processing all this and reading up on it, but it helps to tell my story.