Sam Allan portrait - SCAD heart attack survivor

Sam's story of SCAD

Sam Allan never considered she was a candidate for having a heart attack

She was 48 years old and despite carrying a few extra kilos, had a fairly healthy diet and a busy mum’s life.

But the mother of two from Perth knew something was seriously wrong when her lungs began to burn one afternoon last November, 2021.

Sam Allan with her husband and son

“The kids and I had literally just got home from basketball training, and I went around the side of the house to see my husband working in the garden when suddenly my lungs felt like they were on fire. My husband said to go lie down and that he’d pack up and come and check on me.

“I was lying on the couch for no longer than five minutes when he came in, I told him ‘I’m not good, I need to go to hospital,’” Sam recalls.

Her youngest son Logan stayed by her side as her husband Garry and her eldest son Kody got the car ready. Sam’s husband made the call to drive her to the hospital as they only live 10 -15 minutes away rather than wait for an ambulance.

“I knew I had to get to the hospital as quick as possible. I was trying to be calm for the kid’s sake, but they were distraught as the pain in my lungs increased and breathing was deteriorating. I did not think this was a heart attack but something lung related”.

Halfway to the hospital, Sam’s husband called the ambulance for advice and was told to pull over and wait but they couldn’t give an exact time, it was going to be about 20 minutes.

“Garry knew there was no time and had to get me to the hospital without waiting, so he drove on.

On arrival at the hospital, we parked in the doctor’s bay. Kody ran ahead for a wheelchair and Garry and Logan got me to the ED doors. I was wheelchaired to triage but was at the point where it was too hard to talk and breathe.”

The Triage Nurse realised the situation was serious and Sam was wheeled straight into the emergency room.

“I was taken into a room where they advised me that I was going to be put onto a bed and that’s all I remember as I then blacked out. Looking back, I wished I had kissed my husband and the kids prior to being separated.

“I woke to a surreal situation of being told I had just had a cardiac arrest, and I was being transferred to another hospital for surgery. It was scary and confusing being told that I had just been revived and I had a heart attack”.

“They bought Garry in to see me, and I just couldn’t fathom that I had CPR and defibrillation.

“Garry informed me a few days later that while they were reviving me, they were moved into a family room for privacy and a Pastor was sent in to talk to them, that’s how bad this situation was”.

Sam was incredibly lucky to have arrived at the hospital on time and had her heart attack in a hospital surrounded by professionals and life-saving equipment.

“If we had waited just another 10 minutes at home I probably would not be here today. It was such a huge shock, so much to take in for me and my family. To know I came that close to never seeing them again.”

Sam underwent life-saving surgery a few hours later to have two stents inserted. She was back at home in less than a week.

Sam discovered that she had had a SCAD heart attack – a condition that primarily affects women aged 45-52 and is responsible for a quarter of all heart attacks in women aged less than 50 years.

Sam is now on an array of meds, is seen by a cardiologist regularly, and is following a healthy lifestyle, but knows that she is at heightened risk of another SCAD heart attack.

“A few months ago, I had never even heard SCAD let alone think it would have nearly killed me. I now know I have a 30 percent increased chance of another heart attack.

‘That was scary, but it can’t stop you from living. I’m just happy to be alive and to be given a second chance at life. I can’t thank everyone enough for saving my life.”

SCAD heart attack survivor Sam Allan with her family

Sam is now seeing a trauma counsellor, as will the rest of the family who have been badly affected.

“My boys just did not want to leave me and would sleep by my side night after night. I just want to make them feel as secure as they can so they can get over this anxiety, but it was a lot for them to see and deal with. They thought I was going to die on that drive to the hospital.

“I feel guilty that they saw all this happen and I love them even more and hug them tighter every day.”

Sam is now taking part in the SCAD study being led by Professor Bob Graham at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

She is one of more than 400 women whose genes are being analysed to try and find out more about this deadly condition.

“I really hope that we can prevent this from not only happening to me again but from preventing women in the future from having SCAD heart attacks. It’s an incredible project and I am so glad to be able to support the Institute and its amazing work.”

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