Finally, my eighteen-month old daughter sat contently on the lanai eating her afternoon snack while we watched my five-year-old son play in the “gulch” he had carved out of the lawn. The water in his “gulch” reflected the sun in a halo of golden light around him. At last, in the warm glow of the afternoon sun we were at peace. I relaxed, and recognized the precious beauty of that calm moment.
It was surreal, as the kids had been home sick and fussy for weeks, and I was exhausted. As I serenely sat there, soreness developed between my shoulder blades. Being worn out and carrying my crabby teething daughter most of the day, I assumed I had thrown out my back. I got up to move my body, to work that cramp out! I started to pick up blocks. The pain quickly worsened, so I lay on a rolled towel to stretch my back. Weakness and tingling filled my arms and my jaw grew a tremendous ache. Literally, every ounce of my effort was required to get up off the ground and call my husband, who was fortunately pulling into the driveway. He called 911.
My son ran around the house listening to the approaching sirens, while my daughter innocently bounced on my belly as I lay next to the toilet nauseated, dizzy, weak, an aching jaw and arms, and what felt like a scorching lava rock wedged in my upper spine just behind my chest. I thought to myself, “I have just thrown out my back! Why do I feel so horrible?”
I insisted to my husband, my Mom, the firefighters, the medics, the emergency room nurses and doctor, and the cardiologist that I had simply thrown out my back! The medical team persisted that I go to the Heart Catheterization lab. With my family in support, I reluctantly consented.
That day, I became a survivor of SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). SCAD occurs when an artery that feeds fresh oxygenated blood to the muscle of our heart, internally peels apart. The flow of oxygenated blood to that area of our heart muscle is reduced, thus damaging heart muscle cells, which is essentially a heart attack.
I am a healthy forty-year old mother of two young children, how could this have happened? Surprisingly, being a fairly young woman and healthy mom is a typical profile of a SCAD patient.
Health conditions that can make women more likely to develop SCAD include pregnancy, multiple pregnancies, being within the 24-month postpartum period after birth, hormonal therapy, connective tissue disorders, systemic inflammatory diseases, fibromuscular dysplasia, and coronary artery spasm.
Factors that can bring on a SCAD event include intense exercise, severe emotional stress, labor and delivery, extreme Valsalva-type activity (i.e. vomiting, coughing), recreational drug use, and intense hormone therapy.
A woman having a SCAD event can have chest discomfort, pain, weakness, and tingling to the arms, neck, and jaw, nausea and/or vomiting, excessive sweating, difficulty breathing, and back pain. It is essential for women experiencing these symptoms, whether mild, moderate, or severe, to seek medical attention immediately to save their heart!
Though I was in denial, my symptoms were dramatic, leading us to call 911. However, if my symptoms had been subtle, I may have continued to assume that I threw out my back and waited to seek medical attention. Fortunately, I continue to take care of my children, and am learning to better care for myself, relax in the chaos of raising a family, and fully cherish the moments of calm!
To learn more about SCAD you can go to www.scadresearch.org
Image Credit: Julia Wadsworth