Salty water as a warning sign, according to AHA News

Salty water as a warning sign, according to AHA News

Surviving a Rare Heart Attack: Donnese Tyler’s Journey

A Busy Life That Nearly Cost Her Everything

Donnese Tyler, a busy working mom, rarely made time for herself. With a husband, two sons, and a demanding job in contracts management, her schedule was always chock-full. But little did she know that her hectic lifestyle was silently taking its toll on her health.

One fateful Wednesday in October, Donnese was looking forward to the monthly meeting of the mothers’ club at her son’s high school. As the group’s vice president, she helped run the meeting and enjoyed socializing with her friends. Savoring a salad with spaghetti sauce as dressing and a glass of red wine, she chatted with fellow moms.

However, when the meeting started, Donnese took a sip of water and immediately felt something was off. With a disgusted look on her face, she wondered about the brand of water they were serving—the taste was salty and unpleasant. She cracked jokes about the water and asked others if they had the same experience.

After the meeting, Donnese grabbed a diet soda for a little pick-me-up before driving home. Little did she know, this innocent act would soon turn her life upside down.

The Sharp Pain That Changed Everything

While talking to two women, Donnese suddenly grabbed her chest and gasped. Out of nowhere, she felt a sharp pain that made her think of a baseball being launched into her sternum. At first, she dismissed it as acid reflux, possibly caused by her meal and the caffeine from the soda.

Feeling lightheaded, Donnese sat down and rested her head in her hands. Concerned, one of the women asked if she was okay, and another woman touched her forehead, noting that she was burning up. Fortunately, one of the mothers, Tosha Luchtefeld, was a nurse practitioner and rushed over to help.

When Donnese mentioned the salty-tasting water and her symptoms, Luchtefeld’s expression changed. She firmly insisted that Donnese needed to go to the hospital immediately, suspecting that taste changes could be a sign of heart problems. Donnese, still hesitant, thought she just needed some rest at home.

The Terrifying Diagnosis

Donnese’s husband, Don, met her at the emergency room. By that time, she was already feeling better and brushed off the situation, believing it was merely acid reflux. However, the doctors had a different story to tell. They informed Donnese that they found the enzyme troponin in her blood, indicating that some heart trauma had occurred.

Shocked and unable to comprehend the situation, Donnese couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The doctors explained that she needed to be transferred to a hospital equipped with advanced diagnostic equipment. Donnese, still in denial, thought they would run tests and then send her home. But reality hit hard.

After three agonizing days of testing, Donnese finally received a diagnosis. A coronary angiogram revealed that she had experienced a rare type of heart attack called a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. Unlike a traditional heart attack where a clot blocks blood flow, SCAD occurs due to a separation or tear in the lining of the artery wall, resulting in blocked blood flow to the heart muscle.

To make matters more bewildering, SCAD typically affects individuals without traditional heart disease risk factors. These patients are often in their 40s or 50s, leading healthy and active lives. Donnese was just 51 years old, further adding to the bafflement.

The doctors assured Donnese that her artery tear would heal itself in about a month, but she would need medication for treatment. They identified hormones and stress as the likely causes and advised her to minimize stress levels.

Embracing a New Perspective on Life

After four days filled with anxiety, Donnese was finally discharged from the hospital. However, the fear of the unknown haunted her every step. She was afraid to sleep, afraid to walk anywhere, and afraid that the heart attack could happen again.

Determined to reclaim her life, Donnese requested a referral for cardiac rehabilitation to start exercising in a controlled setting and learn her limitations. She also enrolled in a stress management course, discovering the power of breathing techniques and meditation for relaxation.

Mornings became a precious “me” time for Donnese. Instead of immediately jumping up and starting her day, she now spends 30 minutes to an hour practicing guided meditation to center herself. She no longer works for hours when Don comes home from work—she prioritizes her well-being and switches off when she is off.

In her quest for healing and to raise awareness about SCAD, Donnese began sharing her story with others. She recently spoke at the American Heart Association’s Lawyers Have Heart run and walk event, even jogging the 5K portion with Tosha Luchtefeld by her side. Supported by over a dozen friends and family members as part of “Team Tyler,” Donnese’s advocacy work was recognized with an award from the AHA.

Sharing to Heal and Inspire

Sharing her story and raising awareness has become Donnese’s driving force. As she helps others who may not have a support system, she finds solace and healing in her advocacy work. Don is proud to witness her transformation and dedication.

Donnese has come to realize that taking care of herself is not selfish but necessary for her well-being and the well-being of those she loves. Through her experience, she has learned the importance of self-care, stress management, and raising awareness about heart health.

Donnese’s journey serves as a reminder that life can change in an instant. It urges us to prioritize our health, listen to our bodies, and seek help when needed. Her story inspires us to find balance, embrace self-care, and recognize that our well-being should never be compromised.

Disclaimer: The content expressed in this article does not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association (AHA). All rights are reserved, and copyright is owned or held by the AHA.

Article by Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News