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Rare condition causes young Washington County woman to have three heart attacks

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 2:06 PM EDT
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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - Jana Thomas is a 38-year-old mother of two who is telling her story in the hopes of raising awareness for a rare condition that caused her to have multiple heart attacks not long after she gave birth.

“Initially, everyone just thought it was anxiety from having had a baby,” said Jana Thomas.

Thomas said she was certain something was wrong when she went to the emergency room, but because of her age and relatively good health, doctors weren’t convinced. On top of that, initial tests didn’t show any signs of a heart attack.

Thomas continued to push and credits her local cardiologist for catching what was actually going on.

She was having a heart attack caused by a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD.

“It’s a different kind of heart attack than we usually think of, where the blockage is due to plaque and a clot that forms on top of plaque in the artery wall. In SCAD, the artery really just tears abruptly,” said Dr. Heather Gornik, Co-Director of the Vascular Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

Once local doctors discovered the SCAD, Thomas was transferred to University Hospitals in Cleveland, where she was treated by Dr. Gornik.

Gornik said SCAD heart attacks are typically treated with medicine, and many of the treatments used for plaque blockage heart attacks are much riskier for SCAD patients.

Not long after Thomas was treated for her first heart attack, she was back at a local emergency room with similar symptoms.

“I went to the ER here again after experiencing some headaches and feeling that same feeling again and I ended up having additional heart attacks which led to a five way bypass surgery that I had in Cleveland,” said Thomas.

Gornik said SCAD heart attacks are extremely rare and only account for a small percentage but a University Hospitals official said they account for 40 percent of heart attacks in women under 50.

“It’s the most common cause of heart attack in women who have had a baby,” said Gornik. “And I think awareness is so incredibly important, because unfortunately in an emergency setting or other healthcare setting, someone will look at this vibrant young woman who has just had a baby, who’s having chest pain, and the last thing on anyone’s mind is this could be a heart attack.”

“Heart attacks and issues like this can occur in people of any age,” said Thomas. “And it’s really important if you notice something in your body- you know your body better than anybody else- to really fight for that care, and fight for yourself and your family.”

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