After Jennifer Heenan had a heart attack when she was just 40, her cardiologist told her that out of his thousands of patients she was one of only three he had ever treated with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a rare condition that mostly affects young to middle-aged women.
Since then, she and her identical twin sister Karen, from Bathgate, have been raising funds for charity Beat SCAD in a bid to increase awareness of the under-diagnosed condition.
The sisters’ most recent fundraising effort was to lace up their hiking boots and take on the 96-mile challenge of the West Highland Way.
Jennifer said: “My SCAD came completely out of the blue when I was at work. One minute I felt fine, the next minute I felt nauseous, warm and faint. I tried to carry on as normal for a few seconds before experiencing crushing chest pain.”
She went home early before a friend drove her to see the doctor, who called an ambulance for her. She said: “The next couple of hours were a bit of a blur as I had numerous ECGs and then a blood test that finally showed that I had in fact had a heart attack, which was a huge shock for me.”
Doctors told Jennifer they were surprised at the diagnosis due to her young age. After a barrage of tests and a week-long stay in hospital, Jennifer was told it was spontaneous coronary artery dissection. The condition, that can’t be predicted or protected from, has been reported in people from the ages of 18 to 80, but the majority of cases are in young to middle-aged women who can be at greater risk due to the lack of awareness of SCAD.
A few months after her heart scare, Jennifer was able to pick up her hobby of playing in a brass band again, raising £1890 for Beat SCAD and the British Heart Foundation. Jennifer and Karen also bake up a storm every year to provide homemade scones for fundraising coffee mornings for Beat SCAD, raising £560.11 last year.
The charity also provides much-needed support to patients diagnosed with SCAD and brings survivors together to share their stories.
The hike along the West Highland Way raised another £1655 for the charity. She said: “We found it challenging but a fantastic experience and we were lucky with the weather too.” Jennifer is passionate about backing Beat SCAD, believing they do a “fantastic job”. She said: “More research is needed to understand why fit, healthy people suddenly develop SCAD.”
Luckily, Jennifer has lots of people around her, including her twin, but she still fears another heart attack. She said: “I still get moments when I worry it could happen again as I don’t know why it happened to me, but I do try to live my life normally and take daily medication.
“My friends and family have been a great support to me.”