Anyone Can Have a Heart Attack


02.05.2020

When Escondido resident Megan Baker began experiencing chest pain on the morning of July 29, she figured it was just the stress of being a 39-year-old single mother of two with a full-time job. She even went to the chiropractor for her regularly scheduled adjustment earlier that morning.

About 1 p.m. the symptoms started to resemble a heart attack: chest pain, sweating, nausea and pain in her jaw. Still not believing an active person of her age with no family history of heart disease, regular blood pressure and low cholesterol could have a heart attack, she checked herself into a Graybill Medical Group urgent care, just to be safe.

Within minutes of seeing nurse practitioner Michelle Washington, her heart stopped beating.

“I was clinically dead for two minutes,” Baker said.

Fortunately, Baker had listened to her body and suffered cardiac arrest while under the care of medical professionals who were able to quickly re-start her heart with a defibrillator and provide oxygen before she was rushed to Palomar Medical Center Escondido for more treatment and evaluation. Ultimately Baker achieved a full recovery.

So why is Baker so passionate about sharing her story? Because she wants people to know, especially women, you need to get immediate medical attention if you experience unusual chest pain, even if you don’t believe you’re at risk for a heart attack because the consequences could be deadly (note: the signs for cardiac arrest and heart attack are similar).  

Doctors at Palomar Health diagnosed Baker as having experienced spontaneous coronary artery dissection – sometimes referred to as SCAD – an uncommon emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart causing blockage. The SCAD caused Baker to go into cardiac arrest. The risk factors for SCAD are somewhat mysterious other than it tends to affect females more than males and has a loose correlation to recent childbirth, very high blood pressure, hormone fluctuations and connective tissue disorders.

SCAD is particularly hard to diagnose because there aren’t any warning signs until it causes a heart attack or cardiac arrest and affects people who don’t have risk factors for heart problems. There is no predetermined symptoms other than a raised troponin level, or abnormal EKG and Angiogram if requested. Treatment normally consists of rest, aspirin and high blood pressure medication to relax the blood vessels to improve blood flow which relieves coronary vasospasms and continuous chest pain.

Baker’s experience has lit a fire in her to share with everyone to take heart attack symptoms seriously. Here is what to look for if you’re having a heart attack or about to have cardiac arrest:
 
  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn, vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Now seven months post SCAD, Baker is back to work and an angiogram has confirmed her artery tear is fully healed. She believes with continuous participation at Palomar Health Cardiac Rehabilitation she’ll be able to achieve a safe and active lifestyle. Baker’s ultimate goal is to begin swimming again, her preferred form of vigorous exercise.

Photo caption: Megan Baker (in yellow jacket) suffered cardiac arrest before she turned 40.
 


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