Hope and the Broken Heart: Annie’s Story

“I just had just finished getting ready for work as a florist at a grocery store and was headed to drop my two-year-old son off at day care. It was March 2nd, and the roads were icy that day after a storm, so my husband drove. While we were driving, I suddenly had a burning pain in my right arm. The burning pain spread to my chest and my jaw and throat hurt really bad. It felt like someone was shoving a bowling ball down my throat. I started sweating profusely. The sweat was pouring down so much and getting into my eyes. There’s an ER right next to my work and my husband asked if I wanted to go. We don’t have health insurance and I didn’t want to waste any money, so we sat in the parking lot for a while to see if the pain would go away. I thought that maybe I was having an anxiety attack. I have a high tolerance for pain, but it got so unbearable, I finally went in. I just thought maybe they could give me a shot or something to make the pain go away.

I told them my symptoms and they got me in immediately and gave me an EKG. I had no idea that I could be having a heart attack! I was unfamiliar with the symptoms, and besides that, I was only 30 years old! I was even embarrassed to tell them my throat and jaw hurt because I’m a shy person and at the time, it seemed trivial. The EKG showed that I was having a heart attack and that it didn’t look good. They asked my husband if I had a Will. I was so scared. They sent me to the hospital and did a heart cath. After the procedure, the doctor told me that I had a tear in the right artery in my heart caused by SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). They said putting a stent in would be more dangerous, and hoped it would heal on its own. I was told that SCADs were very rare. The nurse said that she had been there 30 years and she had only seen one case.

Before the surgery, the nurse had asked if I was pregnant. I told her that my husband and I had been trying for another baby. She gave me a pregnancy test before my heart catheterization to make sure that I was not pregnant, as the procedure could harm an unborn baby. Thankfully, it came back negative. After a week in the hospital, my tear healed on its own. I should have started my cycle in the hospital, but I didn’t. It never occurred to me that I was pregnant, the test the doctor gave in the hospital was negative. I thought that maybe I missed my cycle because of the stress of being in the hospital.

I took a home pregnancy test just to be sure. It was positive. I was pregnant! I was excited and scared. The cardiologist had never told me to not get pregnant, and it didn’t matter because I already was, I just didn’t know it. I had 4 miscarriages before I my first son Graeme was born. We felt lucky to have him. We wanted more children and were excited that I was pregnant again until I went to the OBGYN. She encouraged me to terminate my pregnancy. It was just too dangerous, and I might not survive. We wanted more children, but I didn’t want Graeme to grow up without a mother either. We had a couple of weeks to decide. It was the toughest decision of my life. I could terminate the pregnancy and my 2 year-old would have his mommy but I would not be able to have any more children, or I could risk it and have another child and I might survive, but I might not. In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to “terminate” him, as the doctor put it. At the time I didn’t realize the severity of it all. My doctors knew nothing about SCAD. My twin sister printed out papers on the computer about SCAD and asked the doctor to read it. I only saw a cardiologist twice after my SCAD and during my pregnancy. I didn’t even Google SCAD until after my baby was born. I didn’t want to scare myself. After I had him I did, and read everyone’s stories and heard of so many mom’s having to make the decision to terminate their pregnancies.

My family was scared. At one point I bled during my pregnancy and thought I was losing him. My twin sister had it the hardest though. Her daughter was born a preemie, at 5 months in utero. She lost her daughter 8 months before my heart attack, and she thought she was going to lose me too.

Physically, and emotionally, it was a hard pregnancy. I still had to work to help our family do our best to make ends meet. I cut my hours down to three days a week. My heart would stop all of a sudden and then boom, would beat real hard, real fast. It’s hard to explain. It would skip beats. I would pray every time that this happened, I thought that was going to die. I had chest pains a lot. It was hard to tell if the chest pain was because I was having a heart attack or whether it was heartburn, or pressure from the baby. When I was 6 months pregnant, my mom passed away unexpectedly. My heart hurt so bad. I didn’t know if it was chest pains or a broken heart from my mother passing. The cardiologist put me on a heart monitor.

My OBGYN care was totally different from my first pregnancy. No one here in Wichita Falls would take me as a patient. I was high risk and uninsured. They gave me a number to an OBGYN in Dallas, two hours away. I had to drive there every two weeks for appointments. They said when I went into labor to just drive to Dallas. We did. The entire pregnancy my OBGYN wanted me to have a vaginal birth. I always thought that was weird. I had heard of stories of women who pushed so hard during labor that their arteries tore from SCAD. My cardiologist in Wichita Falls had even warned me not to strain on the toilet. A cardiologist had to be in the room with me while I was giving birth. As they were giving me Pitocin, he walked in and said “No way she is having this baby vaginally”. So I had a C-section.

After I had Beau, the doctors took him to the NICU, it was in a different building than the cardiac unit. I was not able to see my baby because they couldn’t take him out of the NICU and I was not able to leave the cardiac unit. I was in the cardiac unit for three days before I was able to be moved to the NICU with Beau. I had to stay in the hospital longer because my heart was skipping beats.

SCAD has changed my life. I’m scared to go to sleep at night. My husband works out of town, so I’m alone with the boys. I worry everyday if I die of a heart attack, how long will the boys be alone before someone finds them. They are not old enough to call 911 or get help. I’m scared that my three-year-old will just think I’m sleeping and beg me to wake up. My husband gets scared if I don’t answer the phone. I’m trying to come to the realization I may not live long. I’m scared I’m not going to be able to watch my boys grow up and graduate and get married.

Now my Graeme is 3, and Beau will be 1 in two weeks. I have good days and bad days. My husband and I are so thankful for two healthy baby boys and we are so thankful that we were able to keep Beau! Even with everything that we went through, I would say that it was worth it! I wanted to tell my story to give SCAD survivors hope, and while every case is different, I want people to know that in my case, both Beau and I survived my SCAD. It was hard, and we were lucky, but there is hope.”

SCAD Research, Inc. is the largest supporter of SCAD research at the Mayo Clinic. If you would like to donate towards finding answers and treatment for patients like Annie, please visit: http://www.scadresearch.org/donate/

For more information on SCAD: www.scadresearch.org #scadstories

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