Sarah paddleboarding

Sarah's SCAD story

I’m a nurse and I’d never heard of SCAD – until I suffered one

Sarah Penn was just about to meet her friend to go paddle boarding on Sydney’s northern beaches when she was floored by a sudden pain.

It ran down her chest and arm and as a registered aged care nurse, it rang immediate alarm bells.

Sarah with her husband Mike

“I thought it was cardiac and my husband Mike called for an ambulance. My arm felt very heavy but by the time got hospital most of the pain had gone,” recalls mum of two Sarah.

An ECG showed nothing unusual, but blood tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack. For Sarah, who was fit and healthy, it was a bolt out of the blue, confounded even further when she was told the following day it was a heart attack caused by Spontaneous Coronary Artery Disease or SCAD.

Sarah, who suffered the SCAD heart attack in January 2022, says: “I had to google it. Even as a registered nurse, I had never heard of it and my GP did not seem to know much about it either when I got home.”

The fifty-five-year-old has made a full physical recovery and is now back exercising but admits it has taken a huge emotional toll.

“SCAD often happens to women like me who are otherwise fit and healthy. I was in my cossie just about to head out paddle boarding and the day before I had done a boxing class. I was actually looking after my husband when it happened, who himself was just out of hospital.

“It came without any warning, and I know I am at heightened risk of it happening again which is really scary.

“It wasn’t long ago I woke up in the early hours of the morning in pain, and I did wonder if I was having another heart attack. You do live in fear and there are times I do have to hold my tears back as it is very emotional.

“Then there’s the lack of information and awareness about SCAD. It’s incredible how few people have heard about it, even medical specialists, and paramedics. We need to change that urgently – it could not only save lives but also help people live with SCAD.”

Sarah has joined SCAD Research Inc to raise awareness of the disease and is also backing calls for more support for survivors like herself.

Work being led by Professor Bob Graham and the Australian Centre for Heart Health is calling for SCAD-specific cardiac rehabilitation programs and the provision of psychosocial support programs for SCAD survivors.

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