Heidi Henson was young, a marathon runner who took good care of herself, and she nearly died of a heart attack at age 35. Judy Alico was just 51, with low blood pressure, low cholesterol, not overweight, and a non-smoker. She had a sudden heart attack and was not as lucky. Heidi lived to tell her story and work to help others. Judy’s husband, Bob, has made the search for answers his life’s work. Both came to Mayo Clinic to present a $100,000 check for research into spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. And they brought their personal stories with them.
Heidi's experience with SCAD came without warning. According to her local newspaper in northwest Indiana, The Times, Heidi was picking her oldest daughter up from school back in February when she suddenly began feeling ill. She called her husband, Nat, to tell him she thought she was having a heart attack. That fear was confirmed by doctors when the couple reached the local hospital.
Sharonne Hayes, M.D., founder of Mayo's Women's Heart Clinic in Rochester and one of the country's leading researchers into the condition, tells The Times that most SCAD patients don't show any "traditional" heart attack symptoms of signs. The condition occurs when a tear forms suddenly in one of the blood vessels in the heart, slowing or blocking blood flow to the heart. "The vast majority of the patients we've seen with SCAD have whistle clean arteries," she tells the paper.
Arizona resident Bob Alico tells the Rochester Post-Bulletin that his wife, Judy, was "otherwise healthy" before her death. The only sign that something was wrong came one day in 2011 when she simply told Bob that she didn't feel well. The P-B reports that she began feeling pain "up and down her right arm." Soon after, her vision became blurry. Her symptoms, the paper reports, "rapidly progressed" from there.
Bob tells the P-B that after his wife's death, he knew he had two options: He could either "turn himself inward" as he grieved his wife's passing. Or he could "turn himself outward" by using his wife's death as a way to help other families avoid the same fate. He chose the latter, founding a nonprofit organization called SCADResearch.org to help raise both money and awareness for SCAD research. The newspaper reports that Heidi and Nat joined Bob in Rochester last month so that their kids "could see the good people and places of Rochester, where she received treatment, and to present the check." Their hope is that it will lead to new insights into the condition. "This money will jumpstart several projects that are really important to you, to us," Dr. Hayes told Bob and Heidi during a check presentation ceremony. "You are why we keep doing it … it's the patient that keeps us going."
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