Spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) survivor Becks Breslin, who in 2012 suffered a heart attack at the age of 34, pioneered the first patient-led study into a condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection which causes spontaneous heart attacks. A BHF-funded team of researchers in Leicester are faced with no small task, as they try to understand the condition, which is found predominantly in women, that has doctors stumped.
Four years ago, Becks Breslin lived contently in a small, country town with her husband Andy and their two whippets.
“I woke with a crushing sensation in my chest. It felt as though someone was pushing me down onto the bed, with all their force. Pain started to radiate through my jaw and down my arm. It took my breath away. I found myself methodically working through a checklist of heart attack symptoms I’d become so familiar with. Everything was pointing to this person having a heart attack. But surely that person couldn’t be me? I’m young, active and healthy. This didn’t make sense.
From the moment I arrived at hospital, I was plunged into a world of uncertainty. Not only was I confused as to what was happening to me, the doctors were too. The doctors could see, by looking at the plumbing of my heart, that I hadn’t had a classic heart attack. Instead, they found a tear (or a dissection) in the artery.
In desperate need of answers, I scoured the British Heart Foundation website and read about a rare heart condition called SCAD. I read intensely, ‘SCAD is a rare condition of unknown cause, which predominantly affects young, otherwise healthy women.’ Bingo. I seemed to fit the bill.
During my time in hospital, a new doctor arrived to see me – Dr David Adlam. ‘Here we go again’, I thought. I had my guard up, but he had a different presence to the others. He spent time discussing SCAD with me, my husband and my sister. He explained what he did know, but above all he told us how much was unknown – a lot.
Despite still not having answers to my burning questions – Why does SCAD happen? Why has this happened to me? How can this be treated? – His honesty gave me huge relief. He was open about not having the answers.
Three months after making it home, I reached out to Dr Adlam. No SCAD research was being carried out in the UK and this needed to change. We wanted to recruit 100 SCAD patients to the first clinical trial into SCAD in the UK, to try and learn as much as possible about SCAD. Dr Adlam didn’t hang around. Within a week we’d started the ball rolling.
Thanks to funding from the BHF, our head-in-the-sky idea started to become a reality. We made a portal for patients to sign up, and I started a charity called Beat SCAD as a way to recruit even more people, and get the word out too.
Now, three years on, over 500 patients have taken part in the trial. And the numbers of those eager to take part just keep growing.
Looks like SCAD’s not so rare after all…”