Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women?
Friday morning, the KCTV5 It's Your Morning team is wearing red in honor of American Heart Month and encouraging women to be more aware of their heart health.
KCTV5 It's Your Morning also wants to introduce viewers to two metro women battling a rare heart condition - a condition some may have and not even know it.
"At times it feels like you're a ticking time bomb waiting for the next one," said Carrie Votypka, a heart attack survivor.
Votypka is a two-time heart attack survivor and they both struck within weeks after the birth of her second child.
"I had a newborn baby at home, I had a 4-year-old at home, I was 36, I was healthy, I was blindsided by this," she said.
Votypka was just two weeks post partum when she felt severe chest pains. She went to the emergency room and her doctor said it was her gall bladder. She had it removed and went back home, but a month later, she felt a pain in her left arm and a twinge in her jaw.
"I thought ‘This sounds like a heart attack,'" she said.
Votypka went back to the emergency room and, while the nurses tested her heart, something happened again.
"I had a heart attack while I was on the EKG in the emergency room," she said.
Doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with Votypka. Her cholesterol was great and her heart, as far as they could tell, looked fine.
"My arteries are 100 percent clear," she also added. "Four days later, I was discharged from the hospital with no answers. They didn't know what it was."
Votypka went to the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis, where they diagnosed her as having Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection or SCAD. SCAD occurs when a layer of the arterial wall tears off and the blood flows behind it and it creates a seal, causing a heart attack. The artery then heals itself, but it can happen again at any time.
SCAD's so rare, many doctors don't even know what it is or how to treat it. Before the heart attacks, Votypka never showed any symptoms of a heart problem.
Frustrated, she went online to a website called womenheart.org and that's where she found one other person in the metro who also has SCAD - Kelly Hayden of DeSoto, KS.
"It was so nice to meet someone that knew what I was talking about because people can try to understand but, unless you've been there and feel it every day, you don't know how scary it is," said Votypka.
The two women met and they've been friends ever since.
"You're healthy on the outside, but the inside isn't healthy," said Hayden.
Hayden has been in good health for most of her life. For more than 48 years, the wife and mother lived a life worry-free. But now, all she does is worry ever since suffering a heart attack three years ago.
"They found a little bit of what they thought was a blockage in my heart," said Hayden.
But her cholesterol level was fine, so Hayden's doctor sent her home from the hospital. Something in her body, though, just didn't feel right and she returned last year, after suffering a major scare.
"It was during a Jazzercise class when I had a major heart attack, crushing chest pain in the middle of class," said Hayden. "When they did the angiogram, they saw the tear in the artery and when he looked at the old place where I had the heart attack, it had already healed itself which is indicative of a SCAD."
As with Votypka's experience, the disease is so rare, many emergency room doctors don't know what it is, diagnosing it instead as a gall bladder problem or something else.
Hayden had no symptoms of a heart condition and, with so little research done on it, she wonders how many other women have had SCAD and gone undiagnosed.
"I can have another SCAD at any time, they don't know what causes it, they don't know how to prevent it," said Hayden. "They don't know how to stop it, they don't know how to slow it down, they don't know anything, really."
As for SCAD, doctors don't know what causes it or how to prevent it so, for now, Votypka ingests 15 pills a day and takes it easy, hoping she doesn't have another heart attack. Hayden now takes 7-8 pills every day. She can't exercise like she used to, and she closely listens to her body, wondering if she'll someday suffer another heart attack.
"This is our new normal," said Hayden. "In the back of your mind, you're always wondering, am I going to have another one?"
Womenheart.org is a great resource for women with heart problems to find support and information.
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