December 30, 2016
Hi – I’m Angela. My story seems to be similar in some ways to others I’ve read here. On Labor Day weekend, CT was having a heat wave. I was looking forward to the last few days’ use of our pool. But on Friday, after a mid-day walk with my friends at work, I suddenly had a hot flash and was nauseous, followed by diarrhea. I assumed I had a minor stomach virus. I went to my Dad’s house, made him dinner, (he is a stroke survivor) then left soon after so I wouldn’t make him sick. The next day was a typical Saturday, full of chores and errands. I felt a little tired and out of breath while walking the dog, but after resting, I felt better and went back to cleaning the pool and cooking. The next morning, the heat wave broke and I was anxious to get back on my bicycle. I didn’t make it far. My arms were painful and heavy feeling, and after a few minutes, my chest started to hurt.
I knew this was something I’d never felt before. I was then 56 years old, slightly overweight, and I had a history of controlled high blood pressure and cholesterol but no other health issues. I walked every day, and was quite active. My husband brought me to a walk in center; they suggested we go to the local hospital. Once there, troponin was found in blood tests and they transferred me immediately to the cath lab at a larger hospital, where 4 stents were put in a minor artery. They told me I had a heart attack and sent me home a few days later.
I was feeling pretty good, but exactly one week later, I had the arm and chest pain again and called 911. They brought me back to the hospital where I had another angiogram. The doctor was not comfortable with stenting me because there were now two arteries involved, one of them major. At this point, they told me I either had SCAD or they had knicked another artery while stenting the first time. They transferred me to a local teaching hospital who sent me to the cath lab for another stent. After about a month, I went back to work and participated in the cardiac rehab program to get back in shape.
I was doing well and feeling good so I attended my work’s holiday party. I wasn’t there long when I noticed a strange, almost electrical impulse type feeling in my jaw. My antennae up, I sat for a minute to think about how I felt. Then I realized my arm was heavy and my chest was starting to hurt. My son picked me up and drove me to a hospital 5 minutes away, but they couldn’t help me and sent me back to the first hospital I went to. I had another angiogram, was transferred again to the better equipped hospital, and then was told the doctors needed to consult about the best option for me. I waited hours overnight, had blood taken every 3 hours, and many EKG’s. Then a doctor came in and told me my cardiologist sent him to consult, and that he believed I was having Vasospasms. The team agreed, and changed my medications. The nitrates gave me terrible headaches, and I was prepared to tell my cardiologist at follow up that I wanted off those drugs. But I never made it to the visit.
That morning, about a week after the party, I had the same symptoms and called 911. I asked them to take me directly to the more equipped hospital and ended up in the ER. They monitored me all day, and sent me home. They said I could manage the angina/spasms with the mediation so off I went with my nitroglycerin and other meds.
Two days later, I called 911 again, as I was sure I was having a heart attack. I was right – I know my symptoms! The doctors said it was more risky, but they wanted to do another angiogram with an ultrasound camera so they could see where the tears were inside the arteries. During this 4th angiogram, I had two more stents put in. Now I’ve been referred to a geneticist/cardiologist (family history of aortic aneurysm and brain aneurysm is the reason) and my diagnosis was changed back to SCAD. Medications also changed back to those that work better for arterial tearing. I have several follow ups to attend, and hope they will have more information for me after we schedule an MRA (like MRI but wills scan all arteries in body) to see if I have tearing in arteries elsewhere.
Needless to say, my family and I live in fear of the ‘next one’. That’s the one they didn’t stent because it’s in the main artery and only 50% occluded. We are all hoping it heals itself, but doctors say we need to make a decision as to what to do with it, if anything. Lately, I’ve had some tightening in my chest, but no other symptoms. I can’t stop thinking about the what-ifs, and I decided to share my story in hopes that we all have support and the research is furthered until they have solid answers.
Kudos to all the doctors who do their best without knowing enough, and to all the survivors who know their bodies, know their symptoms and dare to live! I wish all you readers the support you need, better medical care, love and peace.