An Elephant Walked through My Front Door : Ellen’s Story

“My husband, Mitchell and I own a duplex in San Diego, California. One of the units in our Duplex was vacant, so we had planned an open house on Sunday afternoon from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm. I drove the 40 minutes from our home in Oceanside to the Duplex by myself, as I told my husband that I could handle it alone. It was around 3:30 and I was sitting on a folding chair in the empty living room of the duplex. A woman walked in with a notebook and started asking me a lot of questions. I do not normally let people bother me, but this woman asking me all of these questions, just made me crazy. I became very agitated and told her to just go look around. Knowing what I know now, agitation is a sign of a heart attack, but, at the time, I just thought this woman was being annoying.

As she walked out of the living room and into the other part of the house, the front door opened and an elephant walked in and sat on my chest. That is what it felt like, at least. A crushing pain laid heavy on my chest, which made me wobble and almost lose my balance. I grabbed the chair to gain my balance and even though it was February, I started to sweat profusely. Both of my arms went numb and I felt dizzy. I thought maybe I needed some air. I went outside and the pain in my arms started to get worse. I knew I needed help, so I made a phone call. Yes, I called my husband, not 911. I described my symptoms to my husband and I heard him typing on the computer. Mitchell told me I was having a heart attack and that I needed to call 911. I told him I didn’t want the ambulance because we needed to rent the duplex. He started begging me to call 911, I told him no, that I didn’t have time for this, Mitchell then proceeded to tell me that if I didn’t call 911 that he would. I told him not to call an ambulance because I was leaving the duplex and I would not be there when the ambulance came. He begged me to go to the hospital, so I agreed. In the meantime, the woman was still in the duplex. I told her that I needed her to leave as I had to go to the hospital, she told me she would drive me, but, I told her no, because I didn’t know her, she could be a mass murderer. So I drove myself. Now I know that was very stupid, because an ambulance is a mini hospital coming to you.

When I arrived at the hospital, after hearing my symptoms, the nurse took me right back for an EKG. The EKG was normal, so I was sent back out to the waiting room. About 10 minutes later, my name was called for a blood test to check for troponins (enzymes in the blood that signify that damage to the heart has occurred). In the meantime, Mitchell called and asked if he should come down. I told him not to because I was sure that my troponins would come back negative and then they would take blood again in a few hours and that I would be home by 10 or 11 pm at the latest. My troponins came back elevated and I did not get to go home. I was told that I had a mild heart attack and that I was going to get admitted, and since it was a Sunday and I was stable, I would have an angiogram the next day.

I immediately called Mitchell and told him that he should come down that I wasn’t coming home. Mitchell told me later that he was so scared that he cried all the way to the hospital. I could tell that he was nervous because when he got to the ER, he brought me underwear. He just didn’t know what to do, and he thought that I would need them. I told him my underwear was clean (I guess he heard the same that I heard from my mother, that you should always make sure you have clean underwear if you have to go to the hospital).

Monday came and since I was stable and Monday is a busy day in the cardiac catheterization lab, I was postponed until Tuesday. While I was waiting to go to the cath lab, I had plenty of time to beat myself up. I was so mad at myself for eating that cheeseburger. I am normally active and eat a healthy diet, I had just completed the breast cancer 3-day (60 mile) Walk for a Cure a few months ago, but since heart attacks don’t happen to healthy people, it must have been caused by the occasional indulgence.

Monday night I had another heart attack, and they were able to stabilize me again. Tuesday morning, an ambulance came and took me to the cath lab which is at another hospital for an angiogram. I went into the cath lab and instead of plaque, they found a dissection in my left circumflex artery. When they went to put the stent in my circumflex, I began to tear (spiral) all the way down my circumflex and into another artery (OCM). I ended up with 4 stents in my heart. Instead of the 20 to 30 minutes planned for the angiogram, I actually was in the cath lab for 2.5 hours. When the cardiologist came out to speak to Mitchell afterwards, he said that the procedure was pretty hairy and very complicated.

I woke up flat on my back with a heavy weight on my groin to make sure I didn’t bleed out. My husband told me that I had a heart attack that did not relate to plaque. I asked my husband what that meant. He told me that I had a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). I had no idea what that meant. I was in good company because at the time (6.5 years ago) there was very little known about SCAD, in fact, it was quite scary. Most of the documents on the internet said they found us in the morgue.

My initial Cardiologist told me that it was a fluke and it will never happen again, so just move on with my life. I tried to move on, but, it was very difficult not knowing why this happened or how to prevent it from happening again. My life has been a bit of a roller coaster. The first few years after my SCAD, I was a frequent flyer in the Emergency Room, and every twinge that I felt, I thought for sure I was having another SCAD.

About three years ago, I had a talk with myself. I told myself, that I was not going to let SCAD define me. I was going to find out what really happened to me. My mother and grandmother both had heart attacks. My grandmother had her first (she had several) at 39 and my mother at 54, but I had assumed that it was from smoking. I was clueless. That is when I went on the internet and found Women Heart and Team Inspire, where there was a group of SCAD Survivors. I have become very active in fundraising for SCAD Research, Inc. I have organized two 5K’s in Southern California to raise money and awareness for SCAD Research.

I guess that I am taking my cardiologist’s advice and moving on with my life. I am a Senior Contract Administrator for Kaiser Permanente San Diego. I am also a Women Heart Champion where I lead support groups here in San Diego for women with orat risk for heart disease. I am volunteer for SCAD Research, Inc. and the lead organizer for West Coast SCADaddle and I am also one of the administrators for the SCAD Survivor closed support group with over 1375 survivors from all over the world. I go to Jazzercise regularly and work out twice a week with a trainer. I walk 20 to 25 miles a weekend during training season for the 3-day walk.

I am still worried about whether this will happen again to me, however I have come to terms with it, so that I can continue to go through life. I honestly believe that there was a reason why I had a SCAD and that there is a silver lining to all of this madness. I am not a shy person and am not afraid to talk to people about what happened to me. I really want to know if this is something that can impact my family. I feel very strongly that advocacy for SCAD research is part of my purpose in life. My family is my main reason for telling my story and why I work tirelessly to raise funds for research.”

To learn more about SCAD or if you would like to help us raise funds for SCAD research, please visit #scadstories

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