Prayers Answered on the Mountaintop

(Collaborative piece with Damon Grube as contributing writer)

Tina and Damon 30th Wedding Anniversary Rocky Mountain National Park

It was a long drive in an uncomfortable silence. My wife, Tina, chose to fill the silence with her prayers. God has worked miracles in our lives in the past, but we also know first-hand that God doesn’t’ always answer prayer the way that we want or would expect. At this moment Tina’s prayers were that we would actually make it to the ER.

Earlier that week we had arrived in Grand Lake, Colorado ready for two weeks of hiking and sightseeing with our three sons. Two of our sons are in college, and one is in high school. We had traveled with a camper from Indiana to hike and enjoy the views in Rocky Mountain National Park as a family. We had hiked for two days and had gone out for dinner to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary just last night.

The next morning Tina woke up a little achy with sore legs from the previous days’ hikes. Even the hydration pack seemed to have caused an ache between the shoulder blades. Nothing a couple of Advil and a little rest wouldn’t take care of before getting ready for some ridgeline hiking. While cleaning up from breakfast, Tina pulled me aside. She looked troubled. It was at this point when Tina realized how scared she was. Becoming emotional she told me, “I have a pain between my shoulder blades, pressure in my chest, and now my left arm is hurting. I looked up the symptoms. This might be a heart attack.”

I went over to the campground office to find that the nearest emergency medical facility was a thirty minute drive away. While waiting at the campground, Tina had told the boys she was not feeling well. She had not said much to them because she didn’t want them to worry. She had been praying they wouldn’t witness anything that would cause them to fear for their mom. But Mom was scared.

We left the boys at the camper and started our long silent drive to the Emergency Room. A silence that was filled with hope that this would all just be a false alarm and the doctor would send us back to the camper with instructions to just take it easy. A silence that was broken only once in a while with my asking if the pain has changed. No, it wasn’t changing.

When we arrived at the nearest hospital ER in Granby, the staff took her right away. They asked her questions about what we had been doing, family history, etc., searching for possible risk factors. She was wired up for the EKG, bloodwork and x-rays were done, everything was coming back normal.

I’ve since come to the understanding that these first few hours in Granby turned out to be the most critical point in Tina’s care. We thank God for an ER physician who listened to Tina’s whole story, who was attending to the person and not just the event, not dictating diagnosis solely on test results but on the experience she had communicated. He said Tina’s troponin was normal but on the high side. He could let her go, but with her story, he wanted to keep her here to take the test again.

To our relief though, the test results were coming back normal. We were grateful that Tina’s prayers were being answered and that this seemed to be a “false alarm”. All her pain was gone. We were ready to get back to the campground and continue with our hiking plans. But the doctor was not willing to let her go until he was confident she was okay.

The first troponin test had come back at .05. The second test was still low, but higher at .07. This was trending in the wrong direction, but it was still low enough for the doctor to not have a clear picture that this was a cardiac event. Since the nearest cardiac hospital in Denver was 2 ½ hours away, we opted to wait for a third test.

I drove back to the camper and ate lunch with the boys and just in case, prepared to break camp. After lunch, we all went to the ER to see Mom. By the time they saw her again, Mom was pain free and in good spirits.

Tina’s next Troponin score came back at 0.5. This was not the news we wanted to hear. Being admitted to a heart center in Denver was now our only course of action. Tina would be driven by medical transport where she could be monitored the entire way. Day three into our two week vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park, and it was now over.

So that answered prayer about this being a “false alarm”, not so much. God answered that prayer in a way different than we had wanted. He did not keep us from crisis, but kept us from tragedy. Her prayer was answered with a doctor who took the time needed to do the right thing.

Tina stopping to smell the flowers on a hike

The boys and I would drive separately to Denver, backtracking to get the camper, and then meeting with Mom at the hospital. As much as I hated leaving Tina, I knew she was in good hands, and that God would comfort her as He has in the past. As the 2 ½ hour drive in the transport turned into four hours, God gave Tina that sense of peace she needed. She was safe. The only distress she felt was watching the mountains disappear through the large side window of the ambulance.

It would not be until 7:30 pm before we would see Tina again and know how she was doing. The whole time there was no communication with her and I had no idea if anything had changed. When the boys and I arrived at her room, we found her looking and feeling well and munching down a French Dip sandwich. Needless to say, she was doing well.

The plan at this point was to wait until the next day and do a stress test. That night her Troponin test at the hospital came back at 35. The stress test was canceled and Tina was scheduled for a heart catheterization in the morning.

Friday morning a nurse practitioner came in and talked to us. She had a presence about her that gave me comfort. She began a line of questioning that was carefully planned out, precise, and complete. At the end of the conversation we learned a new term. She said to Tina, “You had a SCAD heart attack. The angiogram will need to verify this, but what you described would likely be SCAD.”

SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection), is an uncommon type of heart attack that affects healthy people who do not have traditional risk factors for heart disease. It is different from an atherosclerotic heart attack in that a tear forms in the lining of the artery, and blood begins to pool in the space formed between the arterial lining, forming a clot that eventually blocks the artery. The cause of SCAD is currently unknown.

Tina was wheeled in for the procedure and I went back to the waiting room. After the procedure our cardiologist came out to discuss the findings with me. Tina had a SCAD heart attack. Since the artery that tore was too small for a stent and blood flow was good enough to keep her stable, she was treated only with medication to allow the artery heal on its own. This was actually another way God answered her prayer since stents can further tear the fragile arterial walls of SCAD patients.

Saturday afternoon, Tina was released from the hospital. Besides some bruising on her arm from the cath, she seemed otherwise unscathed. From caring doctors to a compassionate nurse at the hospital in Granby, this is how Tina was taken care of in Colorado, and we are so grateful.

So yet again, God had answered our prayers. He didn’t give us that “false alarm” Tina had prayed for, but he surrounded us with caring and knowledgeable staff and an outcome we could be thankful for. Everyone did the right thing for our best outcome.

When it came time to leave the hospital, we didn’t wheel her down in a wheelchair or pull the SUV up and gently help her in. Tina just needed to get on her feet. So we walked out of the hospital as if we had just been there to visit someone else. It seemed so very surreal. Walking to the parking garage with her I had to ask myself, “Did this really just happen?”

For more information on SCAD and a link to donate to SCAD research through SCAD Research International, please visit: www.scadresearch.org