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Woman suffers rare heart attack after giving birth, now raises awareness

Woman suffers rare heart attack after giving birth, now raises awareness

(Denise Harvey)


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TOOELE — A Tooele woman is sharing her story to raise awareness about a rare heart attack she suffered six days after giving birth.

Denise Harvey gave birth to six children without complications, but after her last birth, she said she almost lost her life. Harvey had her baby on Jan. 28, but because he was a month early and developed symptoms of pneumonia, he had to stay in the NICU for a week. On Feb. 6, Harvey said she went into the NICU to feed her baby when she began to have extreme chest pain.

“I just felt like somebody was pounding my chest with a fence post,” she said. “Before I had even went to the NICU, I felt really shaky and hot with fever sweats. I fell over and asked the nurse to hold my baby so I wouldn’t drop him.”

Harvey was immediately transferred from LDS Hospital to the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray where she underwent an emergency triple bypass surgery. Specialists said Harvey suffered from Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, a condition where the coronary artery wall suddenly tears. Harvey said she was very lucky to already be in the hospital when it occurred.

“If I hadn’t been in the NICU at that time when it happened, I would not have made it because the blood was just going everywhere inside (my chest),” she said. “It was a miracle that (my baby) was faking pneumonia to keep me in the hospital. It was just a crazy, crazy experience.”


I've practiced cardiology now for about 10 years and I’ve seen three people with it, where I’ve seen thousands with traditional heart attacks built from plaque and the plaque rupturing.

–Dr. Jared Bunch


At 37 years old, Harvey doesn’t have a history of heart problems, and the high blood pressure during her pregnancy was assumed to be preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication. Cardiologist Jared Bunch specializes in heart rhythm disorders at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and said SCAD is very rare.

“I’ve practiced cardiology now for about 10 years and I’ve seen three people with it, where I’ve seen thousands with traditional heart attacks built from plaque and the plaque rupturing,” Bunch said. “And Mayo Clinic, over three decades, has only had 80 people (with SCAD). So that can give you a sense of how rare it is.”

Bunch said medical professionals don’t have a conclusive cause for SCAD, but extreme stress and a hormonal change can factor in causing the dissected artery. He said 80 percent of SCAD patients are women because the increase in blood pressure during pregnancy can often trigger it. Bunch also said studies have shown there could be a correlation between SCAD and fibromuscular dysplasia, a tear in the arteries near the kidneys.

“The most common symptom is chest pain,” he said. “But when we were looking at these patients at Mayo, about half the women that had (SCAD) also had a kidney study and were found to have fibromuscular dysplasia. (The kidney) could be scanned before a pregnancy if somebody was really concerned. Particularly if they are having trouble with gestational high blood pressure.”

Harvey and her son are both making a great recovery, and she said she wants new moms and pregnant women to know about SCAD and to be aware of a few of the symptoms.

“The symptoms are so vague it’s just worth it to get checked,” she said.

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Faith Heaton Jolley

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