Post-pregnancy, heart tears can take place in healthy moms

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This Mother's Day was particularly special for a Grosse Point Park mom who was perfectly healthy until she had a baby, and suddenly her heart was breaking.

Maghen delivered her baby girl, Elise, on April 25, Baby and mom were healthy.

"I only gained about 10 pounds, very smooth pregnancy," said Hadala. "Uneventful pregnancy very smooth labor."

But just days after giving birth, Maghen knew something was very wrong.

"I couldn't breathe," she said. "I started getting shortness of breath. Then I thought something serious is happening."

Figuring out what was wrong with this otherwise healthy 38-year-old would take some detective work.

Cardiologist Dierdre Matina leads the Women's Heart Clinic at Henry Ford Health. Maghen's shortness of breath, chest pressure and blood work offered a few clues.

"In Maghen's case, the markers from the heart were quite elevated," Matina said. "That signaled that there was some stress to heart. And that doesn't tell us specifically what's going on, but it tells us there was some strain to the heart."

With tubes and die, a heart catheterization was done but revealed no plaque buildup. So, next doctors did a cardiac MRI to see the walls of the arteries.

"This is all inflammation which is lighter color and this is a normal muscle wall," Matina said, looking at a scan of the heart.

That's when they figured out Maghen had a tear. It's called SCAD, spontaneous coronary artery dissection.

"I said, 'I've never heard of that," Maghen says.

It happens more often in women, and giving birth raises the risk because hormones affect the blood vessels. So, Maghen suffered a heart attack but not because of a blockage -- because of a leak.

"You have pipes, which are the arteries of the heart, they supply the blood flow to the heart," said Matina. "Normally people have heart attacks because there is a clogged artery or a clog in the plumbing. So we have to clean it out (of cholesterol) and put stents in or do bypass surgery to bypass the obstruction that we have.

"Occasionally we have a pipe that can fracture or break and that is what's called a dissection or a tear in the actual artery."

Now, home with both kids and her husband, Maghen is on the mend. She's on medication to slow down her heart rhythm and is ready for cardiac rehab. She is thankful to be one busy mom.

"I just wanted to be okay for my children and my family," she says.

SCAD can be difficult to diagnose because it often occurs in patients who have no other risk factors for heart disease. When it happens in men, it's usually after extreme exertion. That's, why regardless of your fitness level, you have to pay attention to symptoms.