A Sutherland Shire woman is leading the way when it comes to raising awareness about a little-known, sometimes deadly heart condition that most commonly affects women under 50.
Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, or SCAD, is the leading cause of heart attacks in women under 50 and new mothers, yet until now there has been very limited information available to patients or clinicians about the condition.
Caringbah South's Sarah Ford was playing indoor netball in February 2015 when she felt unusually out of breath.
"I felt really strange. I could not catch my breath. My heart was racing and I had a pain down one arm," she said, adding she started to experience dizziness and tunnel vision, which she later learned was due to lack of oxygen.
She rang a family member who took her to a medical centre, but the receptionist sent her straight to Sutherland Hospital.
"They did some tests and realised I'd had a heart attack and was about to have another one, which they were able to stop," she said.
Mrs Ford, who had no risk factors for heart disease, was diagnosed with SCAD. She was 39 at the time and had two young children, then aged just two and five.
She was treated with aspirin to thin her blood and sent home four days later.
A cardiac MRI six weeks later showed the tear had healed, but her life had changed forever.
"It was difficult to go from being fit and healthy to being told I had a 30 per cent chance of having another heart attack," Mrs Ford said.
"When I first went home my son was two and I could not lift him up at all.
"I take aspirin every day and I still cannot lift anything over 7kg. I have to keep my heart rate under 140, so no running, no sport, which was my outlet."
About 18 months after her heart attack, she and her husband started a charity, SCAD Research Inc Australia, and organised a 5km walk to raise awareness of the condition and money for research.
The first year they raised $10,000, which they donated to the Mayo Clinic in the US as no research was being done here. They have now raised a total of $75,000, which they divided between the Mayo Clinic and a new SCAD study at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney.
They also produced a video last year for the Heart Foundation, which has been viewed more than 162,000 times.
The charity has just used a $10,000 IMB Sutherland Shire Community Grant to fund new Australia-first resources for SCAD survivors, as well as a leaflet and posters for medical professionals.
The resources, which were developed in conjunction with The Sutherland Hospital Cardiac Rehabilitation Service, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Mayo Clinic U.S. and the Heart Foundation, were launched on Friday, November 15, at Sutherland Hospital.
Wendy Mullooly, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cardiac Rehabilitation, Sutherland Hospital said, until now, there had been limited information available to survivors and clinicians about SCAD.
"I have had women tell me they had chest pains but drove the kids to school first because they didn't think they could be having a heart attack, or paramedics told them they were too young to have anything wrong with their heart," she said.
"The SCAD patients often do not fit the profile of a heart attack victim. They are fit young women so psychologically that can be hard for them as well."
Ms Mullooly said the resources also aimed to give women the right information so they could move on with their lives after suffering a SCAD event.
"A lot of SCAD patients suffer anxiety because they are scared it will happen again," she said.
"That is why cardiac rehab is so important. They can come in here and be monitored and find out what exercise they can do. It gives them their confidence back."
A South Eastern Sydney Local Health District spokeswoman said Sutherland Shire was the first area to fund this kind of resource and it was hoped it could eventually be rolled out across Australia.
WHAT IS SCAD?
A tear occurs in one of the heart's blood vessels. This results in a clot forming in the blood vessel, which expands, causing the artery wall to bulge, thereby blocking or slowing blood flow to the heart, resulting in a heart attack, heart rhythm abnormalities or even sudden death.
Very few men are affected by SCAD, with 70 per cent of cases occurring in women under 50.
Pregnancy is also associated with the condition, with 10 to 15 per cent of SCAD cases occurring within a week of delivering a baby.
Most sufferers are not 'typical' heart attack patients but are fit, healthy women who led an active lifestyle and often have no family history of heart disease.
A new website providing the most up to date information about SCAD has also been launched and can be viewed by clicking here
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