Heather Turland with grandchildren

Heather's SCAD story

Commonwealth Games gold medallist survives two SCAD heart attacks

Heather Turland is now on a mission to raise awareness of Spontaneous Coronary Artery Disease

Heather on her 60th birthday, a day before her SCAD heart attack

Heather on her 60th birthday, a day before her SCAD heart attack

Heather Turland was so fit and healthy that when she had a SCAD heart attack whilst swimming off Bondi Beach, she initially dismissed the warning signs.

The former Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist swam back to shore and walked home before finally realising it was something more serious.

Heather, 62, says "I exercised regularly, running around 12 kilometres three times a week. I had low blood pressure, and my calcium score was zero. So, when I started feeling pains in my chest, I ignored it. I thought it must be indigestion and thought I could swim it out. I even drove myself to casualty.”

At hospital she was diagnosed as having a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) heart attack, a disease she had never even heard of.

Five days later Heather, a mother of four and proud grandmother, was back home when she had another SCAD heart attack.

“My son had just rung me to say they had just delivered their baby. But instead of being able to celebrate this news I started feeling chest pain again and felt ghastly,” recalls Heather.

Heather was rushed back to hospital and spent five days in intensive care in May 2021.

“It was such a shock to have a heart attack because I have always looked after myself and then to discover it was caused by a disease called SCAD. Like most women I had never heard of it and had no idea it happened to women like me who were fit and healthy and could come right out of the blue,” says Heather.
Heather competing in the Commonwealth Games

Heather is a former professional athlete and has represented Australia many times in the marathon event. She won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

Survivors of SCAD have up to a 30 per cent chance of having another heart attack – a situation that played out very quickly in Heather’s case.

“I found it very hard to come to terms with that heightened risk and the knowledge that not only had I already suffered two heart attacks, but I could have another. To begin with I was very nervous about being too far from a hospital but now almost two years on I am more relaxed.”

Heather is now being monitored by cardiologists at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and has recently undertaken the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory.

“For the first six months after my heart attack, I made sure that my heart rate did not go above 130 bpm, but I am now back running. You can’t be continually afraid but what this episode has shown me is that you must not assume just because you are fit and healthy that heart disease won’t affect you.

Heart disease is the biggest killer of women, and we need to raise awareness, so more women are aware of not only the risks, but the symptoms too.”
Heather with Professor Bob Graham at the Institute's Sydney laboratories

Heather with Professor Bob Graham at the Institute's Sydney laboratories

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