Pamela with her husband and daughter, Photo credit | ABC News

Pamela's SCAD Heart Attack Story

How one Australian woman kickstarted the Institute’s SCAD research program

Nine years ago, Pamela Byles suffered a SCAD heart attack whilst doing the washing.

“I was just 43 years old but immediately I knew it was a heart attack. The pain was just intense to be anything else. It went down both arms, so I knew I had to get checked out,” Pamela recalls.

By the time she arrived at Busselton Hospital, south of Perth, the pain had gone, and nurses told her, “There’s nothing wrong with you.’’ Fortunately, tests revealed she’d had a heart attack, and she was transferred to Perth where they discovered one of her arteries had ruptured.

She was incredibly lucky to be alive and was told she had had a SCAD heart attack.

Back then next to nothing was known about this disease and it was considered exceedingly rare.

Determined to find out more, Pamela emailed heart disease experts all over the country.

Only one answered her call – Professor Bob Graham, then Executive Director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute – who informed Pam very little research had been done into SCAD and there were too few cases for the Institute to study.

Challenge accepted Pamela decided to find more women like her and set up her own Facebook page called Australian SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection) survivors.

She very quickly found 40 women who were more than happy take part in any research that might explain why they had suffered SCAD heart attacks.

Pamela with fellow SCAD survivors

This growing patient pool was more than enough for Professor Bob Graham to start Australia’s first patient led study into SCAD.

Professor Bob Graham recalls: “She went above and beyond and even helped collect data needed for the study – including X-rays, angiograms and videos.”

Pamela was such a crucial part of the team that she was made co-author on a highly prestigious scientific research paper, alongside Professor Graham and St Vincent's Hospital's Associate Professor Cameron Holloway.

It is the first time the Institute published a paper with someone without a scientific or medical background.

Pamela speaks at the Institute's Women Against Heart Disease Lunch

The team discovered that SCAD was under-diagnosed, around two to four percent of women are affected by SCAD and it most commonly affects those under 50.

Importantly it also found that most women did not have other traditional heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and were otherwise fit and healthy.

Since this first crucial study the Institute has collected DNA and data from hundreds of SCAD patients and made several crucial breakthroughs.

Pamela, who has since authored a book about the experiences ensured by SCAD survivors, says: “We now know so much more about SCAD, and I am hopeful that there will be treatments and screening soon because of the Institute’s research. I feel immensely proud to have played a role and am so thankful Professor Graham responded to me that day. No-one else did.”

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