(NEW YORK) — Donnese Tyler said she was at a routine PTA meeting at her son’s Maryland school last year when she suddenly felt an unusual feeling.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what was that?"” Tyler told Good Morning America of the symptoms she felt, which included a sharp pain in her chest and discomfort in her throat. “I said, ‘I hope I’m not having a heart attack."”
Tyler, 52, also said that when she drank water, the water tasted salty — an atypical symptom she said was a precursor to the medical emergency she quickly began experiencing.
Tyler, whose story was first reported by local ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, credits some of the other moms at that PTA meeting with saving her life.
“I did not want to go, but two of the moms actually drove me to the ER,” Tyler said. “If I had not been around those moms, I would have just driven myself home and laid down, and who knows what the outcome would have been.”
At a Bethesda, Maryland, hospital, Tyler said doctors diagnosed her with SCAD or spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a rare occurrence where a tear forms in the wall of a blood vessel of the heart and separates without warning, according to the American Heart Association.
SCAD can cause a blood clot that may lead to a heart attack, arrhythmia or even sudden cardiac death and some cases require open heart surgery.
What to know about SCAD, heart disease in women
When it comes to heart disease, women can often experience symptoms other than chest pain, including shortness of breath, lightheadedness, pain in the arms or back, nausea and sweating.
Tyler’s symptom of tasting salt in water is incredibly rare and is not supported by any current medical research, according to Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent.
Heart disease, which refers to several types of heart conditions, including SCAD and heart attack, is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is no known cause for SCAD, but it often happens to women who are otherwise healthy and have few to no risk factors for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. It is also shown in studies to occur more often in women who are, according to the AHA, postpartum and women who are “experiencing or close to a menstrual cycle.”
The most common demographic for SCAD is women in their 40s and 50s, according to the AHA.
Treatments for SCAD can range from medication to surgery to insert a stent to hold the artery open, according to the AHA.
Today, Tyler is in cardiac rehab and said she’s hoping to be well enough to run a 5K this May.
Ashton said the prognosis for SCAD varies, but in Tyler’s case, it’s “a great example” of incredible progress.
“Everyone’s recovery will be determined by how severe their dissection was and what their baseline level of condition was before that,” said Ashton. “So it does vary, but early diagnosis and treatment is critical for survival and the good news — these blood vessels, when there’s a small tear, they do tend to be able to heal spontaneously on their own.”
Tyler said she is sharing her story in hopes of encouraging others not to ignore any symptoms they may notice.
“If something doesn’t feel right, you just feel a little off, definitely get it checked out,” she said.
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