Kim Farah is 45 years old, a full-time mother, a chemistry professor, and in the past has competed in triathlons. She has never battled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease. Yet she is a victim of heart disease.
"There was absolutely no reason for me to have a heart attack," says Farah.
Following a typical day teaching at Lasell College, Farah came home to put her 6-year-old daughter to bed. Later in the evening she began to feel shaky, sweaty, and experience chest pain.
"I thought it was a sudden onset of the flu or something," explains Farah.
When the chest pain became unbearable, she dialed 911. Up until this point, she attributed her symptoms to fatigue, the flu or even her own menstrual cycle. Though the pain never radiated through her arms, Farah’s symptoms quickly progressed from clammy and shaky to severe chest pain.
"Then the pain just went through the roof, and the pain was unbearable," says Farah.
An Unexpected Heart ConditionDuring a nine-day hospital stay and a week in the intensive care unit, Farah received four different stents in her arteries, including the left anterior descending artery, and was placed on a balloon pump to sustain her heart’s rhythm. Though only momentarily in an unstable condition, Farah still did not understand why her heart failed.
"I wasn’t convinced that this was a standard heart attack,” continues Farah, “I felt that there had to be some reason to cause somebody as healthy as me to have a heart attack."
So she reached a bit further and found Malissa Wood, MD, cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center. In April of 2007, Wood diagnosed Farah with an arterial dissection, a rare condition characterized by a weakness in the connective tissues of the arterial walls. Arterial dissections are typically seen in pregnant women or people with genetic connective tissue disorders.
Wood strongly believes that women deserve a unique approach when it comes to cardiac care. A physician in the Elizabeth Anne and Karen Barlow Corrigan Women's Heart Health Program at the Mass General Hospital Heart Center, Wood tailors her clinical approach to women.
"Clinicians who are well-versed in the unique issues that surround the presentation, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in women can avoid treatments and diagnostic tests that are unlikely to be helpful in women and to focus on test and treatments proven to be effective and accurate," says Wood.
Making Lifestyle ChangesSince childhood, Farah has been active. An owner of two horses, she regularly spends time working and caring for the animals. When diagnosed with a heart condition, one of her biggest concerns was losing the ability to stay active.
"I think she’s [Wood] been more understanding because she’s an athlete herself. Quality of life is important," says Farah.
Farah was also deeply concerned about how her heart condition could directly affect her daughter’s life. A single mom, Farah had passing thoughts that she had let her daughter down or disrupted her life.
"We had never been separated before, and all of the sudden the rug was pulled out from her" continues Farah, "and she knew something was going on because all of my family flew in from all over."
Fortunately, Farah is back to her routine - caring for her daughter, spending time with her horses and working at the college.
Inspiring Others to Ask Questions
Today Farah shares her story with other women and emphasizes the following:
- All women should tune into their symptoms and ask their doctors if these changes are cardiac-related.
- Services like the women’s heart health program are important and help women get specialized care - from prevention to early detection to treatment.
"Keep searching if you’re not getting the right answers and push to go to a cardiologist if that’s what you think it is. And find somebody who will help you get to the source of the problem," says Farah.