A YOUNG mum has spoken of her shock at suffering a heart attack at the age of just 34.
Bernadette Hamilton had to be rushed to the cardiac care unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where she was given the devastating news that she had suffered a heart attack just hours after she was enjoying herself at a friend’s wedding reception.
It transpired that the mother-of-two from Haddington, East Lothian, had an extremely rare condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), which mainly affects young, fit women.
She spent months struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis, which means she will not be able to have any more children and has a 30 per cent chance of suffering another heart attack in the future.
But she is now looking forward to taking part in a 10km run to raise money for a ground-breaking study into SCAD and the British Heart Foundation, and to mark the one-year anniversary of the terrifying episode that almost claimed her life.
Describing the ordeal, which took place on October 15 last year, Bernadette said: “I was at the wedding reception when I was struck by this overwhelming, horrible feeling of impending doom.
“I just thought I’ve got to get out of here. As I was driving home I began to feel worse. I took some paracetamol and went to bed, but couldn’t sleep. Throughout the night my heart was racing.”
She initially blamed her symptoms on food poisoning, but fell unconscious the following morning shortly after she called NHS 24.
In excruciating pain and with her blood pressure dangerously low, concerned doctors rushed her in for an angiogram, before she was told that her kidneys and liver were failing and she had fluid on her lungs.
It took initially baffled doctors three days to diagnose SCAD and to tell Bernadette that she had in fact suffered a heart attack.
“I’m young, fit and healthy, I don’t smoke, hardly drink and there is no heart disease in the family,” she said.
With her condition stabilised, cardiologists decided against surgical intervention, although Bernadette, now 35, has irreversible heart damage and will have to take daily doses of medication for the rest of her life.
She is also unable to lift heavy objects, has to have regular hospital check-ups, suffers chest pains and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the heart attack.
But after finding comfort from a group of SCAD survivors she met through Facebook, the HR consultant has returned to work and is determined to spread awareness of her condition.
She has also signed up to take part in the major study initiated by the renowned Mayo Heart Clinic in Minnesota, USA.
It is aimed at uncovering the mysteries behind SCAD, to improve treatment, find out the causes and find out what might be done to prevent it striking in other young women.
Although she will have to walk the 10km in October’s Bupa Great Edinburgh Run, she says she is positive about the future. She will take part in the run with the support of husband Simon and her children, seven-year-old Ava and Isaac, four, and the blessing of her cardiologist.
“What happened was awful, but far worse things have happened to other people with SCAD,” she said. “I’m one of the lucky ones.”
• To sponsor Bernadette visit www.justgiving.com/BernHamilton