Brian Willett

Brian's SCAD heart attack story

Brian hadn’t heard of SCAD, until it caused him to have a heart attack

In his role as a police prosecutor, Brian Willett spent much of his time driving thousands of kilometres across NSW. So it was quite a stroke of luck that on the day Brian had a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) heart attack, he was sitting in his office rather than on the road in the remote areas where he worked.

It was 24th January 2014 and Brian’s colleagues had noticed that the 61-year-old wasn’t looking well. Then came the pain.

“I had this intense pain right in the centre of my breastbone – probably only a couple of inches across. It felt like there was an enormous weight just in that little section,” says Brian.

In another stroke of luck, an ambulance happened to be driving by just as his colleagues called 000.

Brian was rushed to Moree Hospital - all the while in intense pain.

“I was given a large amount of morphine but the feeling just didn’t go away – it was unbelievable,” says Brian.

Doctors at Moree Hospital made the decision to transfer Brian to Tamworth with assistance from The Royal Flying Doctor Service. After various tests and investigations, the cardiac specialist finally gave Brian his diagnosis: SCAD heart attack. The cause? Unknown.

“I had absolutely no idea what SCAD was,” says Brian.

“I was told that it mostly happens to women, and is very rare in men. My partner is a former nurse and she hadn’t heard of it either. It’s just not something you hear about like you do with traditional heart attacks.”

SCAD happens when an inner layer of one of the blood vessels in the heart tears, which allows blood to seep in between the artery layers.

As in Brian’s case, SCAD can cause heart attack, but in severe cases it can lead to sudden death. Around 92-95% of SCAD heart attacks occur in women, and the causes of SCAD are largely unknown.

That’s why the Institute is conducting research into SCAD, including investigating known genetic causes such as the PHACTR1 gene. Our research also aims to gain a better understanding of the psychosocial impacts of SCAD, which can cause emotional distress due to the lack of clarity on its causes and how to prevent further SCAD heart attacks – which happens in up to 10-30% of cases.

As a male survivor of SCAD, Brian wants to bring awareness to a type of heart attack that he – and many others in the community - had never heard of.

Brian holding up a pair of jeans that not longer fit him
“I know it’s more prevalent in women, but I want to make sure men are aware of SCAD and that it can happen to you too,” says Brian.

Since his SCAD heart attack, Brian is doing well and enjoying retirement in Toowoomba in Queensland. While there’s no specific treatment that can prevent further SCAD heart attacks, Brian is focused on making lifestyle changes to reduce his overall heart disease risk.

“I’m drinking less, I’ve changed my diet a bit and I’ve lost 22 kilos,” says Brian.

“I am on beta blockers and medication for pre-diabetes but otherwise things are going pretty well with my heart health.”

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