February is Heart Health Month. Before it’s over, I wanted to share my dear friend Kristen’s story—one of the strongest, bravest, and most inspirational people I know.
Kristen and I met as colleagues and quickly became good friends. She is married to her high school sweetheart, Ryan, and they have two adorable kids, Brayden (almost 5) and Addison (3)—and we can’t forget their sweet little dog, Bella. Kristen is a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) survivor.
On January 20, 2016, Kristen and her husband, Ryan, welcomed their second child, a beautiful and healthy baby girl, Addy. Brayden became a big brother and they were happily adjusting to life as a family of four.
Six days later, January 26, Kristen began experiencing upper back pain, tightness in her chest, and numbness in her arm. Kristen’s husband took her to urgent care, where doctors attributed her symptoms to her recent delivery. They thought the symptoms would wear off with some rest, since they were—at the time—manageable.
But after rounds of tests, the doctors finally discovered that she was in the midst of a massive heart attack. Kristen’s cholesterol and blood pressure levels were within normal ranges, but her troponin levels were off—and that’s what concerned the doctors. They were worried about her heart.
Kristen was transported by ambulance to Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis for an emergency angiogram. Keep in mind that as this was all happening, she had a week-old baby and a not even two-year-old at home. She had another test done, which delivered a diagnosis of SCAD. After being diagnosed, she was told she shouldn’t have any more kids, because the doctors attributed all of the heart attacks to her pregnancy and the stress of giving birth. She couldn’t breastfeed her brand new baby. She was also told that she had to keep her heart rate under 150 BPM, which meant no more running or workout classes, Kristen was an avid runner. In addition to those new guidelines her doctors gave her, Kristen was treated with medication as she waited for the torn arteries to heal.
But over the next two months, Kristen was in and out of the hospital with multiple heart attacks. Finally, on February 13, Kristen was home. She did everything the doctors told her to do—including cardiac rehab, taking medication, getting constant check-ups—and everyone assumed she was finally in the clear.
Fast forward to September 22, 2018—Kristen’s 32nd birthday. She woke up feeling great and headed out to the first ever Minnesota 5K SCADaddle, an event she had been planning all year to raise awareness about and funds for SCAD research. Full of excitement for the day ahead, Kristen arrived at the event with bagels in hand for the volunteers. That was when she began to experience shortness of breath. Kristen knew something wasn’t right and fell to the ground, responsive but in a lot of pain. Kristen was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where doctors found that she had experienced another heart attack. She was transferred to Abbott the next day.
Kristen had an angiogram and was told her heart could be treated with the same approach as before—with medication. But on October 1, after almost 10 days in pain—and still in the hospital—the doctors decided to do another angiogram. The news was not good: her artery was completely blocked. Kristen underwent emergency triple bypass surgery.
Kristen spent three days in the ICU and then was transferred to recovery. Her husband did everything he could to keep things normal for the kids while also being present and supportive for Kristen while she was in the hospital. On October 8, she was finally able to go home and be with her family. Though her kids are young, they knew something was wrong with their mommy, and they had missed her so much. Her parents and brother each played big roles in her recovery as well—Kristen is lucky to have such an amazing, supportive family.
To raise awareness for SCAD Kristen and I encourage you to share her story! For information on SCAD click here.