Kristen Bowlds: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

When Kristen Bowlds gave birth to a healthy daughter, she unexpectedly started experiencing chest pressure. An EKG test showed something wrong, but her doctors didn’t find any reason to keep her and she returned home two days following delivery. When her chest pains persisted for four more days, Kristen’s husband suggested she see a doctor. 

Kristen was 29 years old and the thought of having a heart attack was not on her radar. To her surprise, she was diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a rare condition that can cause heart attacks when a spontaneous tear forms in an artery that is otherwise healthy. Kristen was treated at Minneapolis Heart Institute® (MHI) and suffered seven heart attacks before the tears in her heart healed. With no prior family history for heart disease, doctors attributed her SCAD to pregnancy. Kristen followed her doctor’s orders and believed SCAD was in the past.

Almost three years after Kristen’s SCAD diagnosis, she celebrated her 32nd birthday by co-chairing the first MN “5K SCADaddle for Research” race. An avid runner and SCAD survivor, Kristen looked forward to the race. Upon arriving at the event, she felt something was wrong.

“I kept thinking to myself that there was no way SCAD was happening again,” said Kristen.

After alerting another volunteer, Kristen collapsed and knew she was having another heart attack. An ambulance rushed her to a hospital, and she was transferred to MHI® two days later. Over a week went by with Kristen’s chest pains continuing. Doctors found that Kristen had tears expanding down three arteries, causing blood flow in her heart to be essentially blocked. Dr. Scott Sharkey ordered an emergency triple bypass surgery to be performed, restoring blood flow to Kristen’s heart. Because minimal research exists about SCAD, doctors were unsure of what triggered this incident and attributed it to stress.

Kristen is taking precautions to avoid SCAD, but it is difficult to prevent since not much is known about this condition, or why it affects mostly younger healthy women without risk factors for heart disease. It is the number one cause of heart attacks in women under 50, new moms and pregnant women.

It has been over a year since Kristen’s open-heart surgery and she has been without a SCAD event since. She made changes in her life to keep stress minimal and is back to jogging, now with heart rate monitoring in place.

“I’m going to do my best to not let this hold me down or stop living,” said Kristen.

Kristen serves on the Women’s Community Committee that supports the important work of the MHIF Penny Anderson Women’s Cardiovascular Center. She advocates for the importance of research and is dedicated to finding why young healthy women are suffering from SCAD.

“A disease this scary should have answers as to why this happens and that’s why funding for research is so important,” she said.

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