Kristen in hospital after heart attack

Saving mothers from dangerous SCAD heart attacks

Kristen Patton was struck down with a massive heart attack only three days after giving birth to her beautiful baby girl, Hattie. Kristen’s heart attack was later discovered to be caused by a lethal heart condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).

What is SCAD?

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) is a very dangerous form of heart disease that results when an inner layer of one of the blood vessels in the heart tears. Blood then seeps in between the artery layers, causing angina, heart attack, or in severe cases, sudden death.

1 in 4 heart attacks in women are caused by SCAD. Alarmingly, 92-98% of SCAD patients are women, aged between 40-50 and, typically with no cardiovascular risks - just like Kristen. There is also increasing evidence of it occurring more commonly in women who have just given birth.

How did Kristen survive SCAD?

Kristen in the hospital

It was Christmas eve. Kristen was feeding her newborn daughter, Hattie whilst her three other children were fast asleep, excited for Christmas day. Kristen was suddenly struck with unbelievable pain.

“It felt like someone was drilling into my jaw”, she recalls. The pain spread quickly like a web across her face and arm. Knowing she was going to fall, she quickly put Hattie into her bassinet and collapsed unconscious on the floor.

Her husband, Steve, was in another room collecting the Christmas presents. Luckily, he found Kristen shortly after her collapse and immediately called the ambulance. Kristen had suffered a massive heart attack and doctors did not know why.

Shockingly, Kristen suffered another major heart attack whilst in hospital, much worse than the first. She needed a heart transplant desperately to survive because her heart was so severely damaged. Whilst waiting for her heart transplant, Kristen was placed on a temporary mechanical device called an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to keep her heart pumping.

Doctors at the time did not know what caused Kristen’s heart attack. SCAD was barely known. It was only after Kristen’s second heart attack at the hospital that they discovered it was linked to SCAD.

Kristen’s support for research into SCAD

Kristen is very fortunate and grateful to have received a heart transplant. However, her journey to a new heart was not one without struggles. She recounts, “I was ashamed of what I had put my family through. I was meant to be a strong mother, caring for them, not the other way around.”

Kristen is now dedicated to raising awareness and supporting other women who have suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. Ultimately she is determined to make a difference in the treatment of heart conditions globally.

What research is the Institute doing into SCAD?

At the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Australia’s home of heart research, our goal is to find out the causes of SCAD and develop therapies to prevent and treat it. There is currently not enough medical research being done around SCAD, but we are dedicated to changing this.

Our team of cardiologists and scientists are currently focusing on:

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