Sally Fields, a 51-year-old human resources worker who lives in Lee's Summit, Missouri, was accustomed to working long hours with more than her share of stressful days.
In 2020, however, Sally was working when she felt a pain in her chest so bad it felt like someone punched her and knocked the wind out of her. It'll pass, she assumed. Probably just an anxiety attack, she thought. She went home for the day to recover.
The pain continued at home. By morning, the pain extended to her jaw, and she had trouble breathing. Her doctor suspected it was a heart attack and sent her to the Emergency Department at Saint Luke's East Hospital.
Saint Luke’s emergency staff were also concerned and contacted the interventional cardiologist on call, Dr. Dmitri Baklanov who scheduled Sally for an urgent cardiac catheterization. During the procedure, it was determined that Sally had a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) heart attack.
Unlike a traditional heart attack where a clot obstructs blood flow to the heart muscle, SCAD is caused by a bruising within the coronary artery or a sudden tear or shearing inside the coronary artery wall. The tear may result in blood filling the area under and around the tear or simply blocking the blood flow in the artery. A blockage such as Sally’s can be fatal without emergency care.
SCAD is the #1 cause of heart attacks in women under the age of 50 who are healthy and active with no family history of heart disease.
“SCAD is a condition that can happen in people without any heart problems,” said Dr. Baklanov. “All human beings have small blood vessels on the outside surface of the heart. They move and bend, sometimes at 90 degrees, with every pump and squeeze 50 to 100 times per minute. After repairing coronary arteries for 25 years, I’m amazed they don’t stop or break. Every heartbeat is a gift.”
Dr. Baklanov said Sally was able to get up and walk immediately after the procedure. She had an echocardiogram the next day that showed no heart damage.
“I didn’t know how serious it was,” said Sally, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “Some people would have gone through what I went through and could be in a wheelchair or lose heart function. I know I’m tough, but you also have to get help when you need it. Don’t wait, because then it could be too late.”
She hopes her story teaches others not to wait to get care when their bodies tell them something is wrong. Today, Sally enjoys life with her family and greets her children every day after school.
To learn more about SCAD, call Saint Luke’s Muriel I Kauffman Women’s Heart Center at 816-932-5784.