In 2011, aged just 49, I had a heart attack. It came out of the blue after a period of stress at home and at work. It turns out I have a rare form of heart disease called spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD). Often not diagnosed until post mortem, this disease claims the lives of many otherwise healthy young women and men who have no obvious predisposition to heart disease.
A SCAD is a tear in the coronary artery which creates a blockage to blood flow in the heart, resulting in angina, heart attack, or death.
SCAD has been likened to a lightening strike – it comes without warning and there is no way (yet) to predict or prevent it.
For six months after my heart attack, I had no idea it was attributed to SCAD. I was bewildered and looking for answers. It was during this time that I was most grateful to the British Heart Foundation for their support.
I was given leaflets at the hospital and one of the first things I did was ring the BHF helpline for advice and support. They were great and so helpful in just making me feel more safe and secure. I scoured all the leaflets they provided and took the advice on board.
I was pointed in the direction of my local heart support group and soon joined the committee, using my project management skills to help the group start up a gym.
I joined in local fundraising efforts by collecting at supermarkets and in the city centre. I also manned a BHF stand at our local Women’s Day to share the message that heart disease affects women as well as men.
I was even lucky enough to be invited to the BHF labs in Manchester to see first hand the research that takes place.
I am most grateful however for the funding that The BHF has provided into SCAD research. The BHF is first and foremost a research charity and a SCAD patient group campaigned to get funding for research.
The research project has been running in Leicester for over a year now and I’ve been lucky to be chosen as one of the participants. The research involves a review of family medical history, plus a number of tests. including an MRI, ultrasound and skin biopsy.
Although I was slightly nervous of what else the study might find (ignorance is bliss after all), the sensible part of me wanted to chat to an expert about the condition to better understand the risks. I also wanted to know the risks facing my sister and nieces as research so far shows a genetic link.
The study day was in fact extremely helpful and considerably eased my anxiety once I was able to understand some of my ongoing symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat.
I’ve never taken part in a study before, but I’m so glad I did as we really need to understand why SCAD happens.
One of my greatest fears is that I will have another occurrence. Many people have multiple SCADs and there is currently no known way to predict or prevent them. As I write this blog post I’m waiting on results from an MRI and CT scan of my head as there is a chance that I may have experienced another dissection, but this time affecting arteries supplying blood to my brain. Wish me luck with this one!
SCAD now has its own charity in the UK, BeatSCAD which is now fundraising in its own right.
From wearing red in February, to baking scones, there are lots of ways to support the BHF and I hope I can continue to do so.
I’m hopeful for the future and maybe together we can find some answers!