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Cardiology Nurse, Heart Attack Survivor Has Message For Women: ‘Listen To Your Body’


Kristin O’Meara’s story, she says, is certainly one of denial.

It started with searing chest pain, a critical symptom Kristin understands nicely from three many years as a cardiology nurse at Mayo Clinic. But when that ache was in her personal chest, Kristin had a tough time recognizing it for what it was.

“The brain works in funny ways,” she says. “I used to be in fine condition. My numbers have been all good. I informed myself there isn’t any attainable approach this might be a heart attack.”

A go to to the physician proved her flawed. Despite the truth that she was lively and match, docs at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus found Kristin was having a coronary heart assault that day because of a situation referred to as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. Before she might get to the analysis, Kristin needed to overcome her impulse to dismiss her signs as one thing minor.

Discounting tell-tale indicators

On Jan. 5, 2017, Kristin’s day began, as had so many earlier than it, with a visit to the fitness center.

She started operating about 20 years in the past, and has accomplished numerous half marathons and some marathons within the years since.

“I’ve always enjoyed exercise,” Kristin says. “It’s become a passion of mine.”

The exercise has additionally helped Kristin keep her weight, and maintain her ldl cholesterol and blood strain in examine. So when she skilled a pointy ache in her chest whereas warming up on an elliptical machine, she attributed the sensation to one thing aside from coronary heart hassle.

“My first thought was that it was just one of the aches and pains of aging,” Kristin, now 57, says.

She moved to the health middle’s monitor and commenced operating. After about 40 minutes, Kristin began to really feel strain in her sternum. Then the ache moved to her shoulder and again.

“I started wondering if it could be a gallbladder attack or an esophageal spasm,” Kristin says.

She headed for the locker room, stopping twice to relaxation earlier than leaving the health club. By that point, Kristin had begun to really feel nauseous. She contemplated a visit to Emergency Department, but one thing held her again.

“I didn’t want to go and find out there was nothing wrong. I didn’t want to feel foolish,” she says. “But as a provider, I know it’s always better to err on the side of caution and get your symptoms checked out.”

Kristin wasn’t fairly able to take heed to that supplier’s voice inside her head, although. She drove previous the hospital however didn’t go inside. Instead, she ran an errand after which returned house, the place her signs escalated. It was getting more durable for Kristin to keep away from considering that she could be having a coronary heart assault. She chewed a few aspirin tablets and promptly vomited.

Kristin then referred to as her husband, Rick, at work and requested him to return residence and drive her to the Emergency Department. She might not deny her physique’s messages. Something was improper. She wanted assist.

Finding a analysis

Dennis Laudon, M.D., an emergency drugs doctor, examined Kristin when she arrived at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester and instantly suspected her signs may be as a result of spontaneous coronary artery dissection. The situation, which most frequently impacts women with no atherosclerotic danger elements for heart disease, causes a tear or blood pocket within the blood vessels of the guts. This can sluggish or block blood movement and trigger a coronary heart assault.

Cardiologist Marysia Tweet, M.D., a colleague and good friend of Kristin’s, was referred to as in for a second opinion.

“When I walked into the room and saw Kristin, my heart sank,” says Dr. Tweet. “It’s hard to see someone you know in that position.”

She spoke with Kristin about her signs and reviewed outcomes of the checks Dr. Laudon had ordered, together with an electrocardiogram and blood work. Dr. Tweet, who cares for sufferers in Mayo Clinic’s SCAD Clinic and research the situation as a member of Mayo’s Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) Research Program, agreed with Dr. Laudon’s suspicions. But based mostly on Kristin’s household historical past, which included aortic dissection, Dr. Tweet determined to order a further check.

“I needed Kristin to have a CT scan to first rule out dissection of the aorta earlier than any invasive procedures,” she says. In addition to ruling out an aortic dissection, the check additionally revealed dissection of the coronary artery.

Kristin was taken to the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, the place Thomas Tilbury, M.D. — who she’s recognized for 30 years — opened the obstructed artery with balloon angioplasty.

“It’s a challenging procedure in SCAD patients, because there’s a risk the artery could tear further,” Dr. Tweet says. Before trying the process, she and Dr. Tilbury consulted with two further colleagues to find out the most effective remedy choice for Kristin.

“That is just how Mayo is,” Kristin says. “Everyone gets together to figure out what’s best for each patient.”

Gaining new perspective

After the process, Kristin spent 4 nights within the hospital recovering. She additionally accomplished three months of cardiac rehabilitation, studying tips on how to safely return to train. She says being on the opposite aspect of the bedside was an enlightening and rewarding expertise.

“I was so blessed to receive the care I did,” she says. “Everyone I encountered was so kind. I’ve always been very proud to work at Mayo Clinic and have always believed we give outstanding care. But I have a new understanding of that now.”

She believes the expertise additionally elevated her potential to attach together with her sufferers.

“I was sympathetic, but now I truly understand the fear that patients may have,” she says. “I think I can relate better to some of my patients now, and that’s also been a blessing.”

For years, spontaneous coronary artery dissection was believed to be exceedingly uncommon. Until 2010, Mayo Clinic noticed simply 10 sufferers a yr with the situation. But as consciousness has grown, thanks largely to survivors who became advocates, extra individuals have been precisely recognized. Today Mayo’s SCAD clinic sees greater than 10 sufferers every month. It’s a gaggle that shares many similarities.

“Kristin is like so many SCAD patients,” Dr. Tweet says. “She’s a model of health and very active. She’s not a ‘typical’ heart attack patient.”

That’s a part of what could make the situation so troublesome to diagnose. When comparatively younger, wholesome women like Kristin come to emergency departments with chest ache, suppliers might dismiss the signs or attribute them to one thing aside from a coronary heart situation. And like Kristin, sufferers themselves might not understand their signs mirror a coronary heart assault and delay looking for care.

Dr. Tweet and her colleagues together with Sharonne Hayes, M.D., Rajiv Gulati, M.D., Ph.D., and Tim Olson, M.D., hope their analysis will assist change that. They’re learning knowledge from the continued Mayo Clinic SCAD Registry and Biorepository. It at present has over 750 SCAD sufferers enrolled from all over the world. The group has revealed greater than 25 papers on the situation since 2011 within the hope elevating consciousness amongst each sufferers and suppliers. And they proceed to review the info, with a objective of discovering new and higher methods to deal with and stop the situation from occurring or recurring. Between 12 to 29 % of individuals recognized with the situation expertise it once more.

“I don’t plan to be among them,” Kristin says.

Reflecting on classes discovered

Instead, Kristin plans to return the life she lived and beloved. “I want to go back to the person I was,” she says. And she’s nicely on her approach. She’s returned to work and to operating, even finishing a half marathon in August.

“It feels wonderful to run,” she says. “I’m not as fast as I used to be, but that’s OK.”

Some different issues about Kristin have modified as properly.

“I’ve learned it’s OK to have downtime to sit and think and read and pray,” she says. And when she does take time for reflection, she typically provides thanks for “the guardian angel that was with me that day.”

Kristin hopes her story will assist different women who may discover themselves in her footwear.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” she says. “But denial is a very strong emotion. I thought I was healthy. I thought I was invincible. But we are not invincible. Anything can happen to anyone. I want to tell women to listen to their bodies.”

Kristin says she’s grateful for the prospect to have the ability to proceed to listens to hers. “When I wake up each day,” she says, “I really do thank God for another day.”


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