To coin a term used for another devastating day in history, June 1st is a day that will live in infamy in my world. June 1st has always been a very solemn day for me after my hero (my sweet Uncle Leland) lost his battle with lung cancer on this day in 2008. June 1, 2017 started out the same way. I woke up, said some prayers, thought about our wonderful memories we shared and soon, the day spiraled out of controlled and sent me into a tail spin. The unfathomable happened, not one but TWO friends received their angel wings that morning. Both were a shock to my system! Healthy, beautiful, dynamic women, gone in the blink of an eye. Lauren (age 69) passed away from an aneurism and Jami (age 47) passed away from a heart attack. These two women were the picture of health!! It just wasn’t registering in my brain. After crying, swearing, questioning and just being numb and lost for a couple of days, I do what I always do and try to make sense out of something so senseless. What could I do for Jami and Lauren that would turn my sadness into something productive? It’s my nature to research so I sprung into action, looking for clues in case there was any possible way these could have been avoided. The first one I tackled was heart attacks in younger women. What I found left me even more dumbfounded with my jaw dropping to the floor. This info needs to be shared as quickly as possible and just maybe, we can keep one Mother alive because you shared this blog.
Our story starts with sweet Jami, 47 years old and the mother of two. An athletic family, they were literally the picture of the perfect family; Loving, fun, sweet and big hearted Mom and Dad with a daughter and son that were just as talented, smart, loving and beautiful. For a couple of days, Jami experienced some of the symptoms you’ll read about later in this article. She laid her head on her pillow one night and went to sleep as usual. Sadly, Jami didn’t wake up the next morning. Diagnosis, heart attack. What? We were all so stunned to hear the news that Jami had a heart attack. After all, she was the picture of health! Since this just happened recently, I don’t profess to know if this affliction is exactly what transpired with Jami. But what I found in my research was so alarming to me, that I feel a responsibility to spread the word. Remember this new acronym, ‘SCAD’ otherwise known as ‘the hidden heart attack in young women’.
In the back of my mind, I seem to recall someone talking about how heart attack symptoms are different in women than men. However, I just never thought of YOUNGER women having heart attacks. Thankfully, lots of the women I researched, lived to tell their story and see their children grow up, graduate college, get married and even got to enjoy their grandchildren. Many however, will miss out on those milestones because they just didn’t know what they didn’t know. We’re so good at chalking how we feel up to a myriad of issues…the flu, stress, a virus, vertigo. Please, think twice about it next time that happens to you or someone you love. Check out this story from web.md is a great example from a 33 year old young mother:
Meghan Scheiber was in the middle of a 60-hour workweek when the call came: her 2-year-old son was sick at day care and needed to be taken home. Buried in work and deadlines at her medical billing job, Scheiber was already feeling stressed. As she worried about how to juggle everything, she suddenly felt like she was going to pass out and had a heavy feeling in her chest and arms. She chalked it up to an anxiety attack or the start of the flu, let her husband pick up their son, and finished her workday before driving home. But when the heavy feeling came back the next day at home, Scheiber, knew she had to act. “I said to my husband, ‘We have to go to the ER.’” By the time she got there, she was in the middle of a heart attack. She was admitted to the intensive care unit and had a second heart attack 2 days later. Doctors diagnosed Scheiber with a type of heart attack often found in younger women. It’s called spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. “I asked my doctor if I would die,” she recalls tearfully 6 years later, “and he said he didn’t know what would happen.”
“SCAD isn’t rare. It’s rare to meet a survivor.”
That quote from the SCAD Alliance website spoke to me in a not so good, haunting voice. I found out that sadly, many emergency facilities do not even check for SCAD because it only causes a small percentage of heart attacks overall (at least that’s what they thought). Yet, SCAD seems to be responsible for 40% of heart attacks in women under the age of 50. And it’s mostly happening to young women — more than 90% of SCAD patients are female. In story after story, the hospital sent these young women home, telling them to take an over the counter pain relief medication. But in my book, when it’s your daughter, wife or mother, that small percentage takes on a whole new meaning! The other thing that amazed me is this affliction has only been studied for the LAST 5 YEARS! Wow, in this day and age of medical advancements, that really blew my mind!
In some instances, there is nothing that could have been done. However, in many cases, there are advance symptoms, many of which we could chalk up to some other affliction like the flu, a virus or vertigo. So hear is the low down: Unlike a more typical heart attack caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries, a SCAD heart attack starts with a tear in an artery. The tear blocks the artery and blood flow to the heart, leading to a heart attack. (Check out this video from the Mayo Clinic.). According to many sites, many women experience varying symptoms including:
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Heaviness in the chest
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, dizziness, nausea or lightheadedness
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
It’s very easy to see why many women would not even pay attention to dizziness, nausea and lightheadedness and attribute it to everyday illnesses or stress.
Our hearts are heavy and we still can’t imagine a world without Jami. Even though SCAD may not have been what took our Jami, now that you are aware, spread the word and let every person in your life know if they experience any of these symptoms, get to an ER ASAP and be vocal about checking for SCAD. If it’s really the flu or stress, you’re just out a little bit of money for the ER. I’m sure there are many husbands, daughters and Moms and Dads that would gladly pay a few hundred dollars to have their loved one back in their arms. By reading this and being that nagging voice of reasoning to your friends/family, you could possibly save a loved one or better yet, YOURSELF. Please share this with your friends, family, daughters, mothers and sisters. Do it for Jami!