Woman, 35, recognizes symptoms of heart attack; quick action saves her life

[Allina Health Newsroom, August 02, 2023] At the age of 35, Morgan Thompson felt the symptoms of a heart attack, while riding her stationary bike at home.

{{alt}}“I was halfway through the ride when I felt this intense pressure in my chest, and it wasn’t just in one area,” said Thompson. “It felt like someone was sitting on my chest.”

Thompson experienced something similar before and thought if she showered and rested the feeling would pass. The pain persisted. She trusted her instincts and asked her husband to take her to the emergency department. When she told the front desk her symptoms, a member of the Abbott Northwestern Hospital care team immediately sent her for an EKG, which revealed stunning news.

“They put me in a wheelchair, and a woman ran as she pushed me in a room with about eight people. I remember them telling me I was having a heart attack. That’s all I remember,” explained Thompson.

As a woman under 40 who prioritized her health, Thompson didn’t fit the typical description of a heart attack patient.

“While it’s unusual, it’s not unheard of for a woman of that age to have a heart attack, and it’s my job not to miss it,” said Dr. Wade Brennom, the emergency medicine physician who treated Thompson in the emergency department.

Because of Allina Health’s dedication to seamless care integrated health care system which includes the Allina Health Minneapolis Heart Institute (AHMHI), Dr. Brennom was able to get a cardiologist on Thompson’s case within minutes.

“Traditional public thinking about heart attacks is that they occur mostly in older men, and that it is caused by cholesterol or plaque buildup in the arteries, and that’s just not true for many heart attacks,” said Dr. Scott Sharkey, Senior Consulting Cardiologist at Allina Health MHI and President of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation (MHIF).

Thompson was diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD. This occurs when there is a microscopic tear in the lining of the artery, slowing the flow of blood, creating a blockage and causing a heart attack that looks different than a heart attack caused by cholesterol buildup.

“Even though the damage to the artery is different, a heart attack caused by SCAD still causes major heart muscle death, and it is just as dangerous as any other heart attack,” according to Dr. Sharkey.

For years, some doctors overlooked the condition. SCAD mostly impacts women in their 40s and 50s, although Dr. Sharkey has seen it in patients as young as their late 20s. It’s usually triggered by sudden physical stress like weightlifting or even giving birth. Now, as one of the foremost researchers on SCAD in the country, AHMHI doctors know exactly what to look for and how to treat it.

Thompson’s medical team decided a wrist angioplasty was the best course of action to save her life. They inserted a thin guidewire through her wrist to reach her heart. Next, they inserted a balloon through that guidewire and used it to open Thompson’s artery. In Thompson’s case no stents were used, allowing the artery lining to heal on its own.

“That’s the good news with this condition,” exclaimed Dr. Sharkey. “If you can get the artery open and do as little manipulation as possible, it will repair itself and go back to looking pristine.”

Thompson was out of the hospital in a day and a half, and two years later, the only physical reminder of that night is a small scar on her wrist.

“I have an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the people that helped me,” shared Thompson, two years after her heart attack. “And just the fact that I'm like, I'm still here.”

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