Nancy Plesko came in to Burns Lake from the Southside for a short trip to do her chores but little did she imagine that the day would turn into her getting flown out and admitted to St. Paul’s in Vancouver after a sudden bout of uneasiness.
Plesko, 61, worked all morning on her farm like always and then took off to come to town to do some chores and meet with her mother.
“Often on the Southside, we try to lump as may things into our trip to town as possible, and rather than having to take multiple trips. I had also included in my day taking a load of things into the local dump and at that time, one of the containers was really heavy; and it’s not that I don’t lift heavy containers all the time but this time it was heavier than it should’ve been and I didn’t really think about it at that time,” she said.
Plesko soon started feeling uneasy “as if maybe I had eaten something that was not agreeing with me and that was putting pressure on my chest” but she didn’t give it too much attention thinking it will pass. As she started driving down towards the ferry, Plesko started getting a numb-like sensation in her arms which she described as feeling “odd”.
“Then I started to sweat. My forehead was very sweaty and that was very unusual because I don’t sweat like that. Putting those three things together, and having heard what heart attack symptoms are for women, that was the first thing that ran through my brain was ‘oh no! I am having a heart attack!’ and I thought that I shouldn’t be driving,” she said, adding that she immediately called her husband to come pick her up, who drove her down to the hospital.
The hospital then started conducting tests to determine whether it was indeed a heart attack but Plesko’s lifestyle of no drinking, no smoking, no obesity and healthy living was hardly an indicator of what would cause a heart attack.
“By this time I was feeling fine and what was most disturbing for me was I started thinking I shouldnt’ve come in and wasted the hospital’s time. I said something along those lines and the doctor looked at me and told me that I was not fine and in fact I would have to be medevac’ed to St Paul’s,” she said.
After an angiogram at St. Paul’s, the doctors very clearly saw the problem in her heart and determined that it was not a typical heart problem like a build up in arteries or anything. What it was, was SCAD, i.e. Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.
SCAD is a tear in an artery wall in your heart that allows blood to build up in the space between the layers of your artery wall. This leads to a reduction or blockage of blood flow to your heart, which causes damage to your heart muscle and affects your heart rhythm. The problem however is that SCAD is often goes undiagnosed or is even misdiagnosed. Moreover, there is limited information around the issue. According to Plesko, while there are an ongoing studies on it, even health professionals are not often knowledgeable about this condition. A pharmacist in Vancouver told her she had never heard of it, but was going to look into it, and Plesko’s sister’s doctor in B.C. also told her that she knew very little about SCAD.
Why SCAD occurs in some women is still not very well known. For Plesko, the doctors think it was the physical strain that day combined with mental stress. “It is often a combination of many things but my hope is women and their care givers will be better prepared with the knowledge needed to add healthy days to our lives,” she said.
After understanding and learning about SCAD and seeing how rare it is to diagnose it correctly, Plesko decided to raise awareness by sharing what she went through. She is especially concerned over this because ninety percent of SCAD cases are women, mostly between 30 to 60 years of age.
“For women, when it seems like a heart-attack like situation and it could be that or it could be SCAD. I think women in the north and in general, are very strong, independent, and think that they can just push their way through pain and sickness and we need to stop and give ourself break and an opportunity to heal because if we don’t, we might not have that opportunity,” said Plesko, feeling grateful that she took the step to get herself checked out at the slightest hint of something feeling amiss, and hoping more women start taking care of themselves and stay alert.