Friday, February 13, 2015

A survivor’s story: Uncovering the mystery of SCAD


When Donna Grogan, 57, suffered her first heart attack in July 2007, it made no sense to her. She was an avid runner with no family history of heart disease. Grogan, a physician, was perplexed. “I was the picture of health – my cholesterol was normal. I didn’t smoke, no diabetes, and I did everything to make my health a priority,” she says. “But I suffered an ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction – a heart attack caused by a blocked coronary artery – and was treated with two stents.”

Nearly seven years to the day on a Monday morning in July 2014, Grogan suffered her second heart attack. Recurrent symptoms triggered a voice in her head telling her to go to the nearest hospital. At the Mass General Emergency Department, her electrocardiogram was normal, but blood work showed damage to the heart muscle, prompting the medical team to perform a cardiac catheterization. “My catheterization also showed evidence that I had a previous heart attack that I wasn’t even aware of,” Grogan adds.

While Grogan’s heart attack symptoms were typical and included indigestion and shoulder discomfort, what was happening in her body was not. The artery blockage behind all of her heart attacks wasn’t caused by a buildup of plaque, as is the case with most heart attacks. Grogan’s blockage came from a piece of artery that had torn away, which is officially known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD.

“In most cases, the underlying cause of SCAD is unknown,” says Malissa Wood, MD, co-director of the Corrigan Women’s Heart Health Program. “The diagnosis of SCAD may be difficult to make in some patients, because many of them do not have typical risk factors for heart attack. Awareness of the symptoms of heart attack is crucial to allow for a timely presentation and diagnosis.”

Following her diagnosis, Grogan was introduced to a team of Mass General experts in cardiology, vascular medicine and genetics, who prescribed a conservative treatment plan for her, which included exercise and medical management. She also enrolled in the hospital’s SCAD research registry. “Since we began this collaboration in 2013, we have had more than 35 patients enroll in our registry and that number is growing,” says Wood. “We are the only hospital in Boston studying this very under-diagnosed disease. We hope to one day determine potential causes of the disease, as well as how to best manage this condition and improve the quality of life for patients with SCAD.”

After nearly seven months under Wood’s watchful eye, Grogan is healthy and back to full activity. She says she considers herself lucky and is grateful for every day she has with her husband and three children.

Learn more about how Mass General treats SCAD

Read more articles from the 02/13/14 Hotline issue.

Back to Top