Patient Story

Surviving SCAD: Rare Heart Condition Leads Dana to Saint Luke’s

“That’s the thing about SCAD, there was nothing that predisposed me to have a heart attack… I thought it was something minor.” -Dana Garrison

Dana Garrison’s morning started much like any other. She got ready for the day, drove to work, and even pulled over to take a picture of the breathtaking fall sunrise. 

But not long after she got settled in at her desk, she started feeling strange.

“I started feeling pressure in my chest,” Dana said. “I felt like if I could just sit up straight and pull my shoulders back that it would be relieved… I thought maybe it was just heartburn or anxiety. Then it started to radiate up into my jaw.”

Dana searched “symptoms of a heart attack” on her computer. The results quickly popped up, showing that women often don’t have the same classic symptoms as men.

She walked down a few flights of stairs to look for some aspirin in the building’s mini store but had no luck. By the time she returned to her desk, the pain was starting to go down the back of her left arm.

That’s when she decided it was time to see a doctor. She drove to another hospital’s emergency department near her office, although she felt certain it was nothing serious.

After running some tests, a cardiologist recognized the warning signs and diagnosed Dana with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD.

“SCAD is when the inner layer of the heart artery tears or smaller blood vessels supplying larger blood vessels are disrupted, causing a blood clot to form, which then narrows the artery,” said Dr. Anna Grodzinsky, a cardiologist who specializes in SCAD at Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center. “That causes some of those symptoms of chest discomfort or trouble breathing similar to a heart attack.”

SCAD is the leading cause of heart attacks in women under the age of 50. About 4 percent of all heart attacks can be attributed to the condition. SCAD often happens in women and men who are otherwise healthy with no traditional risk factors for heart disease.

As a 54-year-old who exercises regularly and lives a healthy lifestyle, Dana was surprised by the diagnosis.

“I’ve never been a smoker, I’ve never had high blood pressure, I’ve never had high cholesterol, I’m not overweight— I just did not have any risk factors for heart disease,” Dana said. “I hadn’t even called anybody to tell them I was at the hospital. I really thought it wasn’t a big deal.”

Dana was prescribed several medications, started cardiac rehab, and returned to work a few days later.

With up to a 20 percent risk of recurrence in SCAD patients, Dana knew she needed a cardiologist who was well-versed in managing the condition.

“At my first follow-up appointment with my doctor at the other hospital, I just felt like he didn’t listen to me or my concerns,” Dana said. “When you have something like this that isn’t well known, you have to be your own advocate.”

Dana searched online for “SCAD in Kansas City” and quickly found information on Saint Luke’s SCAD Town Hall. She scheduled an appointment with Dr. Grodzinsky, who leads the research on SCAD at Saint Luke’s.

The Saint Luke’s Women’s Heart Center is one of more than 15 academic centers across the country participating in the iSCAD Registry, a collaborative research study funded by the non-profit organization SCAD Alliance. The data registry follows enrolled patients over the course of time to better understand how to diagnose SCAD, the barriers to diagnosis, and how the patients do long term.       

“Dana was very motivated to learn more about SCAD and to participate in the research that is furthering our understanding of it,” Dr. Grodzinsky said. “Physicians still lack information about this condition, so research like this must be highlighted so we can learn more and better educate our patients.”

Dana continues to follow up with Dr. Grodzinsky.

She has helped raise awareness for the condition and inspired change that could be the difference between life and death for others. Because of her, the office building now has aspirin and defibrillators in case of another emergency.

With a better understanding of SCAD and how to best manage her health, Dana is back to living her life as normal. Whether she’s rooting on the Kansas Jayhawks, cheering in the stands of her son’s high school games, or spending time with her daughter and husband, she’s living every minute to its fullest.

“A lot of people have to travel a long way,” Dana said. “I felt really blessed to have an organization like Saint Luke’s with a SCAD specialist so close and to have a location close to where I live.”

Learn more about Saint Luke’s Muriel I. Kauffman Women’s Heart Center. Call 816-932-5784 to connect with a Saint Luke’s SCAD expert.