A Little Heart Can Make a Big Difference

by Jill Kelly

We all evolve as we go through life, and if we are truly introspective, many of us will find that our life tragedies and everyday experiences shape our future and the causes that call to us.  I know that has been true for me.

In 2012, I felt like I was just starting to make a name for myself as a young personal injury litigation attorney, despite having just welcomed two babies into the world only 15 months apart.  While I was still figuring out the work-life balance, I did feel like I had my life relatively well under control.

All of this changed, when one day, I had a heart attack completely out of the blue at age 36.  I had decided to train for the SheRox Triathlon and had begun a swim conditioning class.  I had done a few triathlons in the past (albeit at a slow pace), and I thought this would be a great way to reclaim myself and have some “me” time away from work and family.  After a swim conditioning class, when I pulled myself from the pool, I felt a nagging pain in my upper abdomen behind my breastbone.  That feeling lasted about 15 minutes and resolved.  While it caused concern, a heart attack was not on my radar.

Two mornings later, the feeling returned and eventually led to classic heart attack symptoms – pressure across the chest, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and weakness in the arms.  After a trying time in the hospital, with some initial dismissive treatment from an ER doctor, a heart attack was confirmed, but the cause was something I had never heard before – spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD.

I was told that the doctors rarely see this and know little about it.  Essentially, SCAD occurs when a tear forms in the innermost layer of the coronary artery. The dissection can lead to clot formation at the tear site or otherwise obstruct blood flow starving the heart muscle of oxygen, causing a heart attack.  Unlike the typical heart attack involving atherosclerosis, SCAD is relatively uncommon and often strikes people living healthy lifestyles. For that reason, it is often misdiagnosed.  SCAD disproportionately impacts many more women than men, and because research has historically focused on men, it was not hard to believe that my doctors, in 2012, knew little about SCAD.

The fortuity of the timing of my SCAD heart attack was that the condition was just starting to get some media attention.  The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, had just begun studying the condition, and Robert Alico, with the death of his wife as motivation to find answers, had started the non-profit SCAD Research, Inc., to help fund research endeavors into why SCAD occurs.  The weekend of my SCAD marked the very first 5K fundraiser that SCAD Research hosted in the Chicago, IL, area to raise funds.  The media showed SCAD survivors who were walking, running, and most importantly living after this life altering diagnosis.  I knew what I had to do.

I immediately booked a flight to the Mayo Clinic to be seen by the study doctors and to enroll in the study.  I read every article I could get my hands on.  I joined the Board of Directors for SCAD Research.  I learned that Fibromuscular Dysplasia (“FMD”) is an associated vascular condition, which makes people more susceptible to dissections and aneurysms, and that I have that condition.  I became active in FMDSA.

Because SCAD and FMD are diagnoses that are often overlooked by doctors, raising awareness that these vascular conditions exist and funding the research that will help us fully understand their impact is critical.  The Mayo Clinic doctors now believe that SCAD may be the #1 cause of heart attacks in women under 50 and is the #1 cause of heart attacks in Post-Partum women.

The Lehigh Valley has an opportunity to greatly impact this research as it is now the site of the East Coast 5K SCADaddle fundraiser.  In September 2016, the first Lehigh Valley 5K SCADaddle and Gratitude Gala grossed over $20,000 in donations and proceeds, thanks in large part to friends and family of a local woman, Meagan Duarte, who was taken much too soon from her family as result of SCAD.  We are hopeful to make an even bigger impact on this research in 2017. Consider being a Title Sponsor for the second 5K SCADaddle and Gratitude Gala in the Summer of 2017. Contact SCAD Research, Inc., at 5Keastcoast@scadresearch.org for sponsorship information.

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