I don’t drink or smoke but I had a heart attack at age 30
PEOPLE are shocked when I tell them that I had a cardiac arrest at age 30. But I’m the face of heart attack — this is what it can look like.
It doesn’t only affect overweight, older men.
I was healthy. I exercised three times a week. I didn’t drink or smoke. I weighed 50 kilos, liked a little bit of sugar but I looked after my diet. Yet I had a heart attack 14 hours after my son, Archer, arrived.
[My husband] Grant and I tried to have a baby for a couple of years. I had endometriosis, so we tried IVF and on the second round we conceived Archer.
I had morning sickness, gestational diabetes and carpal tunnel [syndrome] — and I craved zucchini. But there was no indication of what lay ahead.
On July 16, 2013, Grant and I went to the hospital at about 6am. I was booked in for a caesarean because Archer was breech. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d had a natural birth.
The birth went smoothly and Grant cut the cord. But I don’t remember that or holding Archer for the first time because the heart attack I had left me with amnesia about that time.
THE WARNING SIGNS
Jackie Stripling was a healthy active young women when she suffered a heart attack, hours after giving birth to her son, Archer. Picture: Mitch Bear
I breastfed Archer but about 13 hours after he was born I began getting chest pain and pain in my left arm. I was told it was probably due to the surgery – who would think a 30-year-old woman who has just had a baby is having a heart attack?
But over the next hour it got worse and then I vomited. Grant took Archer to the special care nursery to get his blood glucose checked and when he arrived back in my room I was grey. I was dead. He says he’d never seen so many doctors and nurses rushing around.
They did CPR and defibrillation and managed to resuscitate me. I’d also suffered a seizure. An intensive care doctor examined me and called a cardiologist who operated on me that day and put five stents in my heart to repair a collapsed artery.
I suffered Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). It’s quite rare but can happen to any healthy man or woman. Mine was triggered by pregnancy and I know of two Australians who experienced SCAD at the same time as me. They both died. SCAD seems to be related to hormones but research is ongoing.
I was in intensive care for four or five days. Since I’d had a seizure, too, doctors weren’t sure if I had brain damage. Grant wondered how he was going to raise our baby without me … But I woke up and two weeks later I came home.
Any time I got a pain in my chest I thought, ‘Am I going to have another heart attack?’ It’s unlikely to happen again — but it could — and that played on my mind.
I was petrified of dying and wondered if I’d ever live a life where I wasn’t worried every minute of the day. Hypnotherapy helped. My hypnotherapist reminded me that we’re all going to die one day, but every other day we won’t. I shouldn’t worry because it won’t help.
About six months after surgery I had a routine heart ultrasound and it showed a blood clot, so I’m on aspirin and warfarin [an anticoagulant].
Due to the cardiac arrest, part of my heart doesn’t pump properly, so I see my cardiologist every six months for checks. He says I’m doing well.
I can’t have more children because of the risk of cardiac arrest during pregnancy. But when Grant and I first married we thought we would never have children, so we’re extremely grateful to have one. We feel very blessed.
Archer is a busy boy. Grant is a builder and Archer wants to be like dad so he always has a toy hammer or measuring tape in his hand. He’s very active and that takes my mind off things — I don’t have time to be worried.
I lead a healthy lifestyle. Initially I was scared to exercise and to put pressure on my heart but I go for bike rides and do body pump classes and I walk a lot.
I didn’t fit the mould of someone who would have a heart attack and I don’t think women realise it can happen to them. Maybe they don’t recognise the signs of a heart attack because it’s more than chest pain. Some of the best advice I got was that nobody ever died of embarrassment. So if you feel like something is happening, call an ambulance.
I never imagined this would happen to me and I’m grateful for the life I have now. It could have been so different.”
Breakout: 80% is the percentage of patients with SCAD who are women. The average age of sufferers is 42 years. Source: Mayo Clinic
WHAT ALL WOMEN NEED TO KNOW
- Heart disease is Australia’s biggest killer. It’s responsible for the deaths of more people than all cancers combined.
- One Australian dies every 27 minutes due to coronary heart disease.
- At the age of 40, the lifetime risk of coronary heart disease is 1 in 3 for women.
- Young people aren’t immune from heart disease.
“[They] can have congenital heart disease and rhythm disturbances. In some cases, the wall of the artery splits and that tends to happen when hormone levels are high, as in pregnancy,” Garry Jennings, CEO of the National Heart Foundation, says.
- Risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, being above a healthy weight, and depression.
- Symptoms of heart attack can differ. You’re likely to feel pain in the jaw, back or neck, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and cold sweats, weakness or fatigue, anxiety, lethargy and appetite loss.
* If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 000.
Originally posted on The Daily Telegraph on 2 March by Jackie Stripling