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Cone shares SCAD experience

ABOVE: Vonnie Cone. More than a year ago Cone experienced a SCAD heart attack and has since been raising awareness of the rare and misunderstood heart attack.

FAIRMONT– February is American Heart month, an annual time to recognize and raise awareness of heart health. While a lot of informational materials are circulating around, there’s not much out there about SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection). It’s been just over a year since Fairmont resident Vonnie Cone had a SCAD experience and since then she’s learned a lot about the little known and poorly understood type of heart attack.

It was the fall of 2022 and Cone had just had a full physical and blood work and received a clean bill of health.

However, soon after that, she started not feeling well. She was fatigued, had dizzy spells, headaches and jaw pain. However, she chalked the fatigue and headaches up to stress and over-working and the dizzy spells could be explained because she had been in an accident five years earlier and had experienced vertigo as a result. And the jaw pain could also be waved away because Cone said she has TMJ and thought she was grinding her teeth in the night.

“I could explain a lot of it at the time but now looking back, it was everything on that list of symptoms,” she said.

Those symptoms went on for about two weeks and Cone felt like she was a broken record talking about them.

“It was a Saturday morning, October 15, and my husband (Brad) was going to go out and farm but when we got up, I said , ‘I am not feeling good,'” Cone said.

She began getting ready for the day but was quickly feeling worse so she told Brad she thought she better go into the Emergency Room.

“By the time I came out of the closet into the living room, my whole left arm had gone numb and I knew it was not normal. I said very calmly, ‘we need to go to the ER,'” Cone said.

They arrived at the Emergency Room and upon explaining what she was experiencing, an EKG was done right away and Cone was told she was having a heart attack.

“I said, ‘what?’ and they told me they were calling a helicopter to take me to Mankato,” Cone said.

Initially she asked her husband not to tell their children because she didn’t want to worry anyone. However, soon after the EKG, Cone was to have an Xray done but lost consciousness during the process.

“I wake up and Brad is holding my hand and I see my kids all in there and I knew something happened. The nurse said, ‘you had a heart attack. We had to paddle you back,'” Cone recalled.

She was airlifted to Mankato where she had an angiogram done, which revealed a SCAD. As it was explained to her, Cone said in a regular heart attack, there’s plaque buildup which blocks an artery in the heart. In a SCAD, the artery collapses inside of itself and causes the blockage and it’s then cleared, whereas after a normal heart attack stints are put in.

“I was in the hospital for six days and everyone would tell me, ‘we don’t know much about it. We know it’s a SCAD heart attack but it’s not very common.’ There was no solution to it and I wasn’t okay with that,” Cone said.

While still in the hospital she was told she had more SCAD arteries and was eager to get them taken care of and cleared out but was told that couldn’t be done. She went home from the hospital at a 46 percent ejection fraction rate, which was okay but not ideal.

“My biggest problem was not having a solution. Mentally for three weeks… I didn’t sleep. I was told I had more SCAD arteries and it took awhile for my meds to get regulated,” Cone said.

As opposed to typical heart attack patients, Cone did not have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or any other health problems.

“I considered myself to be a healthy person so it was a shock because of that and my age,” Cone said. She was just 49 at the time of the episode.

No check ups were scheduled until six months after her SCAD heart attack because her heart needed time to heal. Cone got back to normal life, working in real estate and tending to her family and social life.

At her six month check up, she was at 49 percent ejection fraction, which showed improvement, but was also told she would need to stay on her heart medication indefinitely, which was disheartening for her to hear.

“Mentally and physically I thought I was doing good,” Cone said.

Now, over a year after her SCAD heart attack, Cone has done research on her own and has discovered other people in the community who have had SCAD heart attacks. She’s a member of a few SCAD survivor groups on Facebook.

“It’s been helpful to listen to other people’s stories. A lot of people in these groups are postpartum women in their 30s who you would never expect.

One person she’s connected with in the group is Erin Nawrocki, who is married to Martin County native, Tyler Nawrocki. She was 34 years old and had just given birth one week before she had a SCAD heart attack.

“We were home within 26 hours of our third daughter being born.. and one morning I had a severe headache and then started getting severe chest pain. I called over to my husband and asked him to take the baby and thought I was just having postpartum symptoms. But then I had elbow and jaw discomfort,” Nawrocki said

She acknowledged that the symptoms were signs of a heart attack but at a young age and with no family history, she doubted if that’s what it could be.

“I had just had an uneventful birth and had no hypertension so I didn’t know what it could be but the chest pain wouldn’t go away. I finally agreed to go to the ER so we loaded up all three girls and once we got there I was hooked up to an EKG and told I was having a heart attack,” Nawrocki said.

Like Cone, Nawrocki had never heard the term SCAD or knew what it was at the time but has since done a lot of research on her own.

Nawrocki also noted that she and her husband are both in the medical field and she had even spent a few years in the cardiovascular field and had never heard of SCAD.

“They’re still doing further research on SCAD. They know 90 percent of the time it happens in women, but 10 percent in men, so there’s maybe some correlation of hormones which would make sense because it happens in a lot of postpartum or pre-menopausal women,” Nawrocki said.

As she is in medical sales, Nawrocki is taking the opportunity to give out SCAD heart attack awareness packs to different hospitals and medical facilities she visits.

Mainly, what Nawrocki and Cone want is to spread awareness and encourage people to get checked out right way if they sense something is off with their health.

“By the time I went into the hospital to the time I had my heart attack, it was seven minutes. It takes me seven minutes to get to the hospital from my house,” Cone said.

She can’t stand to think what would have happened had she waited at home to let the weird feeling she was experiencing pass, which is why she’s advocating for others to seek help when they feel off. She also wants people to know there is no shame in getting checked out.

“I’ve had friends of mine tell me they’ve gone to the Emergency Room when they’ve had weird symptoms just to get checked out. They were fine but I’m glad they got checked out. It can happen really quick,” she said.

The only thing she’s really changed since having her SCAD heart attack is that has taken exercise more seriously and has tried to stress less, though anyone who knows her knows how much of a hard worker she is and how seriously she takes her job.

Another thing she’s taken to heart since her experience is her gratitude for where’s she’s at and what she has in life.

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