I was 35 years old, with three kids under 10, an amazing husband and a normal, comfortable life. I had never heard of SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) and had no idea how it would completely change my life.
That change came on February 1 st , 2017 with no warning. I lived a healthy lifestyle – regular exercise, healthy diet, and no smoking. My family has no history of heart disease so nothing leading up to this pointed to a potential heart attack. The morning of the 1 st was like any morning except I woke up with pain in my arms and a heaviness in my chest. I became short of breath while I was brushing my eight year olds hair for school. That shortness of breath soon turned into hyperventilating. I assumed it was a panic attack – which I have no history of – and I brushed off the need to have an ambulance called. Good thing my husband disagreed and called 911. I walked onto the ambulance and quickly became unresponsive while trying to convince the Paramedic Dave (aka guardian angel #1), that I was fine. My heart had stopped and I was in full blown cardiac arrest. He was able to revive me with epi for a short moment but just as quickly as the first time, I was pulseless once again. From there Dave began CPR and emergency room nurses and doctors continued CPR and used an AED on me for nearly 45 minutes. Once the doctors were able to get my heart out of vfib and restore a stable rhythm, I was placed in a medically induced coma and was rushed to the cath lab where a balloon pump was inserted through my groin. It was then that the doctors discovered that I had a 100% occlusion of my LAD due to a SCAD. Knowing that their hospital wasn’t equipped to handle that type of trauma, and that my brain likely couldn’t handle a bypass operation, I was packed from head to toe in ice bags (hypothermia protocol) in an effort to preserve my brain function. The plan was to put me on a LifeFlight to be flown to Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia for continued monitoring and care to ensure no neurological damage was done. There, I stayed on the “Arctic Sun” (hypothermia protocol) for 72 hours to let my brain heal. After 8-9 days of being in a medically induced coma, I battled through a collapsed lung, severe pneumonia in both lungs that brought me to the brink of death again, blood clots in my leg and heart and finally, an almost 100% blockage of my windpipe due to necrotic tracheal tissue which was a result of the traumatic intubation on day one. That involved another dramatic situation where I was rushed back to the CCU for an emergency bronchoscopy. After three weeks in the hospital I was discharged with a final diagnosis of SCAD resulting in a massive heart attack and cardiac arrest.
I was tested for FMD (Fibromuscular Dysplasia) while in the hospital but it was determined that I did not have it. After recovering at home for many months I decided that for the sake of my children’s future, I needed to find out why this happened to me. My docs were saying we would probably never know and while I could accept that answer, I could only accept it as a last option. I had to dig deeper.
So with the help of my amazing Electrophysiologist, Dr. Ben D'Souza, I got an appointment with the world renowned SCAD team at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. What an eye opening experience! It was determined at that appointment that I did in fact have FMD, a known link to SCAD, in both my renal arteries and possibly other arteries as well. From Mayo Clinic I was referred to Mt. Sinai in NYC for further evaluation with their FMD team, a leader in Fibromuscular Dysplasia research. This is where things truly came full circle for me because it gave me an answer to WHY this happened. It was confirmed that I have FMD in both renal arteries as well as my left carotid artery which puts me at higher risk for stroke as well. I would have new limitations to adjust to and a new “normal” to accept but it gave me the knowledge of what was happening inside my body. It gave me an answer to why my body betrayed me that day. With answers comes a healing process. These doctors helped me begin that process which included learning to trust my own body again. I truly believe that the SCAD and FMD communities have the world’s best doctors in our corner, fighting to find answers for us. That brings a level of peace that is vital to healing from the trauma of our situations.
Today, as a result of my traumatic event, I am a certified CPR and AED instructor and advocate for women’s heart health. Dave, the Paramedic who performed CPR on me that scary day, is the same man who taught me how to perform it on others to potentially save a life one day. It was truly a full circle moment for me and one I'll forever be grateful for. Becoming a CPR instructor and teaching others how to save a life is my small way of giving back and showing my gratitude for being saved that day. I never thought that I’d be a SCAD, heart attack, and cardiac arrest survivor at just 35 years old. I also never thought that I’d be diagnosed with not one but two incredibly rare diseases all in the same year. This journey hasn’t been an easy one. It still isn’t. But I’m committed to helping others walk this road as so many have helped me and spreading awareness about heart disease and the importance of knowing how to perform CPR.