Two years ago, AnnMarie Hess felt a familiar pain in her chest. It was the same as a sensation she’d felt six years earlier, just 17 days after having given birth. At the time of the first episode, the pain passed quickly and Hess thought little of it. But later, when the pain returned and was more persistent, she went to the hospital and discovered she’d suffered a heart attack. Doctors ran a full battery of tests, but concluded she was in good health and that the heart attack was a postpartum anomaly. She began exercising more and even lifting weights as she recovered. All seemed good until the second episode, two years ago, which struck while she was on vacation. She ended up in full cardiac arrest and nearly died.
“I didn’t have a pulse,” Hess, a mother of five, told NBC News in an emotional interview. “I had about 45 minutes of CPR and I was shocked about 10 times before they could get me back into a normal rhythm.”
The culprit in her near fatal heart attack, doctors said, was an ailment called spontaneous coronary artery dissection, also known as SCAD. Health officials have noticed recently that SCAD is causing more heart attacks than previously believed, and the phenomenon has doctors rethinking how they screen for heart problems.
“SCAD is a type of heart attack, but completely different than the one we normally think of,” cardiologist Dr. Sharonne Hayes of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, explained to NBC News. “It’s caused by a split or tear in an otherwise healthy artery that leads to a drop in blood flow to the heart leading to a heart attack.” Doctors are still learning about SCAD, but they believe the condition could be responsible for nearly half of heart attacks that afflict women under the age of 50. The condition has been observed in men, but otherwise healthy women and pregnant women, or those who have recently given birth, are the most at-risk. Watch NBC News’ full report in the video below.
Read the full story and hear more about Hess’s ordeal at NBC News.