When Jackie Stripling tells people she’s had a heart attack, they often don’t believe her.
She says she isn’t surprised, as a healthy, 30-year-old woman just isn’t the ‘face’ people think of when they think about the condition.
Well, Jackie wants people to know that heart attacks don’t just happen to overweight men or people who are old. They can happen to anybody.
In Jackie’s case, she was just 30 years old, exercising about three times a week, not drinking or smoking and with a generally healthy diet. Yet, 14 hours after she delivered her son, she had a heart attack.
It started with one couple’s wish to have a baby. Jackie and her husband, Grant, had been trying to fall pregnant and start a family for years. When she found out she had endometriosis, they turned to IVF, and conceived their son, Archer in the second round. Jackie’s pregnancy was far from perfect. She suffered with morning sickness, gestational diabetes and carpal tunnel (syndrome), but she had no idea that was just the beginning.
On the 16th of July 2013, Grant and Jackie went to the hospital where Jackie was booked in to have a caesarean as Archer was lying in breech. Jackie says she often wonders what would happen if she’d had a natural birth and not stayed in the hospital as long. But the birth itself went very smoothly, with Grant cutting the cord and both of them overjoyed at meeting Archer. Well at least Jackie thinks she was overjoyed. Her heart attack left her with amnesia of that period.
Around 13 hours after Archer was born, Jackie was breastfeeding when she noticed she was having chest pain and pain in her left arm. She dismissed the symptoms as pain from her surgery, admitting that the idea she could be having a heart attack never even crossed her mind. However, the pain worsened over the next hour and she started vomiting. When Grant went to take Archer to the nursery, he returned to find his wife lying grey on the bed with doctors rushing around her. She was dead.
With intense CPR and defibrillation, doctors were able to resuscitate Jackie. She’d suffered a seizure and had to go in for emergency heart surgery where she had five stents put in to repair a collapsed artery. The ultimate verdict? She’d suffered a rare episode called a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). Although rare, it can, and does, happen to people from all walks of life, and is triggered by different things. For Jackie, that thing was pregnancy, but for two other Australians she is familiar with who had the condition, it was other activities or possibly hormones. They weren’t as lucky as her, and both died.
Jackie spent five days in intensive care, leaving both her husband and doctors waiting to see if she would wake with brain damage from the seizure. She woke healthy, and two weeks later was able to come home. But the effects of the heart attack lingered, both emotional and physical. Jackie became terrified of dying, and anytime she felt a twinge in her chest, she worried about having another heart attack. While she understood that was unlikely, it took a hypnotherapist to work through her anxiety on the issue.
There were physical issues as well. Six months after her surgery, doctors found a blood clot on her heart, meaning she needs to take even more medication. Also, due to the heart attack, her heart doesn’t pump to its full capacity, meaning she attends regular checkups. But doctors say she’s doing well.
Doctors have told her that she should absolutely not have any children, but both Jackie and Grant say they’re blessed with Archer, after having been told they might never have children. They aren’t looking to try again.
Spreading The Word
Jackie knows she isn’t the typical face of a person who has a heart attack, but she wants women to know that cardiac arrest can happen to anyone. Recognising the signs of a heart attack are so important in quick response treatment, and that’s really on the individual to figure out. If you ask Jackie, she’ll tell you that you should listen to your own body. If something doesn’t feel right, call an ambulance. For the condition that Jackie was diagnosed with, SCAD, about 80% of sufferers are women, with an average age of 42. That could be you.
Heart attacks may not get as much attention as other illnesses, but we want to spread some of Jackie’s message now. Heart disease is actually bigger than cancer. In Australia, it is responsible for the deaths of more people than all the cancers combined. Every 27 minutes in this country, someone will die of coronary heart disease and by 40, the risk of coronary heart disease in women is 1 in 3. Young people don’t get off without a warning either, because you may have a congenital condition or rhythm disturbance that is set off thanks to an activity you do. Risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure and cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, not doing enough exercise, drinking too much, being overweight and more.
One of the things that Jackie desperately wants people to know is that there is more to having a heart attack than feeling a pain in your chest. Symptoms differ from person to person. You may feel a pain in your jaw, back or neck, as well as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, cold sweats, weakness (or fatigue), anxiety, lethargy and appetite loss. If you feel these symptoms, don’t wait. Call an ambulance.