Barry with his dogs

Barry's SCAD heart attack story

Nine out 10 people who have a SCAD heart attack are women. But one in 10 are men.

It took four days of being in hospital – often in terrible pain – for Barry Moss to be told he had suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD heart attack. Fifty-five-year-old Barry now wants to make sure other men are aware of the disease, that primarily affects fit and healthy people like him. He also wants to ensure that everyone presenting with SCAD gets prompt treatment.

Barry, a priest from Perth, first started feeling unwell on Friday, December 30 in 2022. He recalls: “Being the holiday season, it was not a good time to be going into hospital.

"They did the usual heart attack tests, and it came back that there was nothing wrong. I told them I had a zero-calcium score and if I could go home instead of having the second 'trops' test, they said that would be ok but if I had any further pain to come back. I agreed and added I would follow up with my GP.

“But at around 2pm I felt really unwell. My daughter was home, and I told her I had really bad pain and to take me into hospital again. Upon arriving they gave me some medication for the pain, but it had little or no effect. And they did more tests which again came back negative, they said they would get a cardiologist to see me but that did not happen.

SCAD survivor, priest Barry Moss standing by church

“They didn’t know what was going on and decided to admit me to the Cardiology Ward. I think it was after midnight and as I was making my way to the ward when the results came through that I finally got an elevation on the troponin test. In the early hours of the morning a cardiologist told me they thought I had a plaque that had caused a blockage behind my heart. I was very 'unstable' that night and just before handover, I was transferred to the coronary care unit. I was still in a lot of pain.

“Later that morning at 9:00 am the pain got really bad. I went cold and felt like I had a slab of concrete on my chest. The ward clerk walking by hit the button and suddenly doctors came from everywhere. They were doing an ultrasound – they were pumping something into me. My breathing was erratic. I could hear the doctors say his ECG is normal – his blood pressure normal.”

Barry was given medication which relieved the pain and helped with his breathing. But despite him asking if they were going to do an angiogram, doctors told Barry they would only do so if it got worse.

Barry says: “I was thinking how could it get any worse? It was not until Tuesday I had an angiogram and the cardiologist said, ‘Now we know what has happened.' Turns out I had had a SCAD and as the artery had already healed itself, they did not want to risk a stent.”

Once the SCAD diagnosis was made, doctors carried out a raft of other tests to check his carotid and renal arteries. Barry believes they were checking for evidence of fibromuscular dysplasia or FMD – a condition that often accompanies SCAD.

Barry now understands his SCAD started on Friday and took hold when he was in the coronary care unit – taking place over a number of hours.

Barry was discharged the next day but presented later that week when he was concerned about feeling very unwell. The doctors thought he was suffering both anxiety and had had a reaction to his medications. His follow-up appointment was made for early May.

When Barry looks back upon the whole episode, he thinks his lack of diagnosis had more to do with staffing issues over the festive period than that he was a man suffering a SCAD. But he cannot be sure.

“They were definitely thinking I was having a traditional heart attack and I did not have access to the team who probably would have made a different diagnosis,” recalls Barry.

Barry has since done a heap of research and discovered that SCAD primarily affects fit and healthy women around the age of 50 and women who have just had a child. He wants to find out what causes SCAD in men.

Barry says: “I’ve done a lot of reading and like most people who have had a SCAD I was more than averagely fit. I would walk around 20-25,000 steps a day, played tennis regularly and also swam. I’m certainly not a super athlete but have always had a low heart rate.”

Barry has been keeping up with the Institute’s SCAD research, which revealed the key genes that cause SCAD.

Barry says: “It’s obviously a step closer but we need to find out why SCAD occurs and why men like me also suffer from it. There’s very likely a genetic predisposition and it would be good if we could test family members – like my son and daughter to see if they are at risk. That will hopefully come.”

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years