Like so many other SCAD survivors, she's in excellent physical health and didn't have any of the traditional cardiac risk factors. This is her story, in her words.
Teri Thom from North Vancouver, BC
June 16th 2010, evening
I had a heart attack, and didn't know it. I was deeply immersed in playing a video game (a 3D MMO) engaged in hard core combat :) It started with pain radiating up both of my arms and across my chest. I thought it was overtrained muscles from my previous day's workout along with some minor indigestion. I tried to self medicate with tylenol, antacid and massage - first mistake! My husband fell asleep at the normal time and I didn't want to bother him - second mistake! Finally after much pacing and massaging my arms and chest I fell asleep - third mistake!
June 17th in the morning
I got my husband out the door to work as usual. About an hour later when doing the dishes the pain and discomfort returned. This time I knew something wasn't right. I remember saying to myself, "This is BS!" - a second heart attack. I couldn't get my head around it being a heart attack even though it had crossed my mind. Intuition made me call my son and ask him to drive me to emergency – fourth mistake!
During all those mistakes my platelets were working to repair a tear in the lining of my Left Anterior Descending Coronary Artery. The lining and platelets were blocking the artery and preventing my heart from getting the oxygen it needed. I should have called an ambulance the evening of the 16th. That would have saved valuable time and got me immediate care. But we, typical nurturing, women, wives and mothers, are too busy taking care of others to know when we need help ourselves. It's ingrained in us! ^.^
How could I be having a heart attack, anyway? I had been a fitness buff most of my life, even a natural, amateur bodybuilding champion, still worked out at the gym, rode my bike for errands and power-walked regularly. I didn't eat red meat, smoke, or overindulge in treats or alcohol. I had no obvious risk factors. Besides, isn't a heart attack supposed to be super painful? Certainly bearing my two sons was much, much, much worse than this!!!
I was one of the lucky ones. In Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency after a 3 hour wait, I received the tests and care to begin the repairing of the small damaged area of my heart. My husband and son came to find me relaxed with sunglasses on, under the bright hospital lights, listening to my iPod, completely cool and oblivious to the seriousness of my state. They laughed, commenting they would never forget that sight. The next morning I was sent to Vancouver General Hospital for an angiogram, which clearly showed the torn artery. Too small for surgery or stent, my condition was medically managed. I was told by my interventionist about the tear and by my cardiologist that I had had a narrow escape, that this condition was rare and usually only discovered at autopsy. Not much was known about it. Gee thanks! Ok... It must just be a fluke. Although I did work out pretty intensely the other day... Keep in mind I'm extremely competitive in the gym--or was.
With cardiac rehab and medication, in time, my life returned to a 'new normal.' No more extreme training. :( But I live! :) My heart is healthy again, no permanent damage, the artery repaired. But at cardiac rehab, like other SCAD survivors, I didn't fit in. I would do laps around the other, older, less fit participants. SCAD is blockage by tearing, not by plaque deposits, and our stories all have our complete and utter shock and surprise at having a heart attack. My arteries are pristine! Cholesterol levels are better than normal. We are more fit, younger, with healthy lifestyle choices, and many are athletic, marathon runners, cyclists and new mothers. Whenever I hear of a young person or new mother having a heart attack I wonder if it was a SCAD. And I'm filled with sadness for the many families who have lost loved ones to it without them or the doctors even knowing what happened.
I wanted to share my story to help increase awareness of this, until recently, most often fatal experience. We are in the hundreds now, having come together in online communities. Womenheart Champions have worked hard to inspire the Mayo Clinic do a research study on SCAD. On May 5th, the first annual SCAD walk was held in Naperville, Illinois.
Recent studies reveal contributing factors may include hormone spikes and irregularities, extreme effort, stress, trauma and FMD (Fibromuscular Displasia), a condition where there is abnormal growth of the lining of the arteries. Survivors should be screened for FMD in case they need to modify their lifestyle or take medication in order to prevent stroke or kidney problems.
Most importantly, call an ambulance if you experience any symptoms of heart attack or stroke. Do not wait! Your survival and recovery depend on it. Become familiar with what those symptoms may be as they are different for men and women. Heart attacks happen to healthy people, too.
Best, Teri Thom, North Vancouver, BC