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Hi friends! I'm honored to be nominated for Go Red for Women’s Woman of Impact campaign. As part of this year’s class of changemakers, I’ve brought together a team that’s working to make the greatest impact possible on women’s health. We will be raising much-needed funds for the American Heart Association and working to improve the health of our communities. I hope we can count on your support!

In 2004, Go Red For Women was born as a campaign to raise awareness among women about their greatest health threat — heart disease. It’s not just about wearing red. It’s not just about sharing heart-health facts. It’s about research, spreading awareness, and SAVING LIVES!

Cardiovascular diseases, which include heart disease and stroke, claim the life of a woman about every 80 seconds! Also, as a survivor of SCAD: Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection, which affects mostly women, I'm extremely passionate about sharing my story in hopes that one day it will save a life. I would not be here today if it weren't for the life-saving research of the AHA.

To support my campaign, click here

To read my full story and help spread awareness, continue reading…

I am your every-day mom. I am 44 years old, grew up in Ventura, CA, have an awesome husband and three beautiful children. We love to go camping, travel, entertain, and feel very blessed to have such a great network of family and friends. Life is good – but here’s what happened to me when my youngest, was only 10 days old:

Our youngest was born via C-section because he was breach. I was so worried about having the surgery; even though C-sections are very common, I was scared because my only sibling died when she was just 22 years old merely hours after a routine surgery. That was 20 years ago… She had many unforeseen complications and not knowing if my experience would be the same, I had a hard time trying to relax and enjoy the birth of my child until it was all over and I was in the recovery room where I could finally hold him for the very first time.

He was a happy and healthy 8-pound baby boy… but on August 1, when the baby was only 10 days old, I was awoken at 5:30am with pain in my chest and throat. Not sure what I was feeling at first, I sat up in bed and tried to figure it out. It felt like someone was standing on my chest along with some very bad heartburn. My spine was also hurting very badly, like it was twisting. I stood up and realized I was very short of breath and started to panic a little bit. Suddenly, I felt the pain in my left arm. It felt like my bone was breaking from the inside out. That’s when I knew something was wrong… I whimpered a little bit and my husband woke up. He asked what was going on and I said I thought I could be having a heart attack. He jumped out of bed and we decided to dial 911.

The paramedics arrived shortly after and by the time they got there, the pain had subsided. I felt really silly and told them I was sorry for bothering them. They wanted to take me via ambulance to the hospital instead I promised to go into the ER later that morning once the kids were awake, which I did. The doctors at the ER evaluated me and ran more tests. They could tell I had definitely had some sort of heart episode because my troponin levels were elevated; however, it was unknown exactly what had happened. (Troponin is a protein in your blood that doctors can test for to see if you’ve had a heart attack.) After several hours in the ER, I was really starting to miss my kids, especially my newborn baby. The cardiologist who was rounding that day, Dr. Rishi Patel, sat with me and explained that it was “probably pericarditis because a dissection is very rare.” The doctor said pericarditis is very treatable, and should go away in a couple weeks. They wanted to keep me over night for more tests, but I insisted I was okay and checked myself out of the ER even though it was AMA (against medical advice). I went home with some very strong anti-inflammatories and figured I’d be good in a week or two.

The discomfort in my chest was mostly positional – like if I was reclining on the couch or lying flat in bed, I would feel my heart start to beat strangely and would feel pressure in my chest. This is the “rub” they speak about of pericarditis so I wasn’t too worried. I realized when that would happen, I could just get up and lean forward over the counter or kitchen sink and it would go away. It was a little unnerving, always worrying about how I had to sit or lie down, but I started to figure it out and just dealt with it. I was very tired and feeling pretty run down after a few nights of that, but was managing – not to mention I was already sleep-deprived with a newborn. I had only felt the pressure in my chest a few times over the following days and thought I was getting better, until exactly a week later…

I had been sitting on the couch feeding the baby when I felt the pain return in my chest. It came on slowly, then suddenly felt very intense. My first thought was that I had been leaning back too far so I immediately stood up. It was getting worse – feeling like it did during that very first occurrence the week before but much worse: like someone was standing on my chest, pain in my upper spine, my throat, and in my left arm. I was immediately concerned. It was getting much more severe, so I decided to call my husband. He rushed home from work and during the 10 minutes it took him to get home it got almost unbearable. I was leaning over the kitchen sink, trying to focus on my breathing, and trying to stay calm. I was starting to cry and panic quite a bit, so we decided to call my new cardiologist’s office (Dr. Patel). They instructed me to come in immediately. We packed up the baby and drove to the office which luckily is right across the street from the hospital. Thankfully, our toddler was at preschool and our oldest was away at summer camp in the mountains.

I told my husband to wait in the car with the baby and tried my best to walk myself to the elevator. I was in so much pain I thought I might pass out. Thankfully, two nurses from my OB office (also in that building) were in the elevator and walked me to the cardiologist’s office. I was losing my vision, like someone was holding a black piece of paper in front of my face and I only had peripheral vision and the pain was unbearable.

The nurses at the cardiologist’s office hooked me up to an EKG, looked surprised and perplexed, and were discussing what to do (my cardiologist was out of the office). After waiting what seemed like an eternity (it was probably only a minute or two) I decided I had to do something – I knew I couldn’t wait. The pain was worse than I ever imagined it could possibly be and was moving into my jaw and right ear. I was crying and stepped out into the hallway and said I had to go to the hospital right away. They immediately got a wheel chair and ran me across the street to the ER.

Luckily, I remembered to call my husband as they were wheeling me across the footbridge to the hospital and calmly instructed him to go home with the baby and that I would keep him posted. I didn’t want him to worry and I didn’t know the severity of what was really going on at that time…

Once I arrived at the hospital, it was go-time. My experience there was like a dream and I can’t remember all of the details, but I remember them immediately hooking me up to several IV’s, running fluids into me, administering morphine for the pain and nitroglycerin tablet under my tongue. I started to calm down a bit as my intense pain started to subside. From there they rushed me into the operating room…

Dr. Dennis Brooks, also from the same cardiology office, must have quickly rushed across to CMH as I was taken across to the hospital. I got slid off the gurney onto what felt like the world’s narrowest table. I looked around and saw I was obviously in an operating room and noticed there were several people rushing around and more looking in through a large window to my left. Dr. Brooks explained he was going to go into my femoral artery to perform surgery.

I thought to myself, “Wait, surgery?!?” I couldn’t stop shivering and kept trying to tell myself to hold still.

I was still not exactly sure what was going on and all of a sudden realized my husband was still with our newborn baby waiting to hear from me. There was a nice nurse, David, who had been following me from room to room explaining how lucky I was that I was there, how they were going to take great care of me, etc. –

I told David we had to call my husband and tell him what was happening. He put the doctor on the phone with my husband and he explained that I was having a SCAD: spontaneous coronary artery dissection and that they were going to place stents into my heart; if that didn’t work, they would have to crack me open and do a bypass. I was in shock hearing all of this and just tried to stay calm. I couldn’t quit shivering and my mind was racing. Heart surgery, ME???

As I lay wide awake on the operating table, this amazing cardiologist, Dr. Brooks, sat to my right and explained I was going to be okay. I could see what I think was a live x-ray and my heart beating on the monitor – it was crazy. Next thing I know, he’s done and I’m getting wheeled out. They had placed 4 stents in my heart! It was about 5:30pm and the symptoms had started around 2:30 in the afternoon that same day. It all happened so amazingly fast…

SCAD – Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection. What the heck? Had never heard of this before and apparently, most of the cases are women, within my age group (I was only 37), who are either pregnant or just had a baby. Per the Mayo Clinic, it “is a rare emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart… People who develop spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) are often healthy, and many don't have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. SCAD can lead to sudden death if it isn't diagnosed and treated promptly. It's not clear what causes spontaneous coronary artery dissection.” However, many of the cases have common factors including being female and giving birth - both of which, I obviously had. Someone told me I was the 88th person in the WORLD to have survived this rare condition – I know now there are may more SCAD survivors, but I still feel very lucky nonetheless!

I was moved into the CCU and stayed there for the next several days. I just tried to rest as much as I could and cried missing my family. I was in shock – was I going to make it through this? I thought of my parents and what might happen to them if they lost their only other child; of my children if they lost their mom; and of my husband if he lost his wife. That’s when it all really hit me and I decided it wasn’t my time to go. I was going to survive!!

I was a mess. Everything hurt and I really started to feel very emotional and homesick. I wasn’t allowed to see my children because it wasn’t safe for them to come into the CCU. My oldest had been away at camp in the Sequoias the entire time and had no idea any of this had even happened yet. My husband, other family, and a few friends stopped in to visit me each day. I insisted I was okay when people came to see me and sent my husband home after only an hour or so each time because I wanted him with the baby – Despite the visits, I felt very lonely and was still scared even though I tried my best to appear positive. A man in the room next to me passed away – was I going to make it out of there? I was so scared…

Finally, on the seventh day, I got to meet my surgeon and thanked him for saving my life. As anxious as I was to go home, I was also scared because I knew I wouldn’t have a nurse to call on if something were to go wrong. They took such great care of me, I was afraid to leave.

Being home was so surreal; even the most normal things seemed weird to me… the way the light came in through the blinds and made shadows on the walls – the sounds of the neighborhood dogs barking and kids playing outside… it didn't seem real, but I was soooo happy to be home.

The first few months were nerve-racking because I didn’t know what to expect. I was put on several medications including and anti-platelet, low-dose aspirin, cholesterol, and blood pressure medications. Every now and then I would feel weird heart beats, like my heart was flopping around in my chest; along with slight little twinges of pain every now and then. I followed up with my cardiologist regularly and they assured me that was all normal, but if I were to ever feel that intense pain that I had felt on August 7th, to rush into the ER. I tried reading up on the internet about what to expect after SCAD, but didn’t have any luck finding much information about recovery. Fortunately, in the time since, I have found a few facebook support groups for survivors that have been very helpful.

It has been just over 7 years since my SCAD and I am finally feeling a lot better. I’m off all of my heart medications except the baby aspirin and can even do intense workouts or hikes (with a heartrate monitor) if I like. It is amazing that I had this crazy experience and can live to tell about it. It hasn’t been easy though – you would think that living through a near-death experience would humble you and make you appreciate all that you have… and it has; however, I also feel a strong desire, almost pressure, to do more with my life. Now that I am a survivor, I feel the need to be the best I can be in all aspects. It has made me a little more anxious every day, trying to fit everything into our increasingly busy lives and make everything perfect for my kids... I sort of feel like I’m on high-alert all the time, and trying my best to feel normal even though I remain forever changed with a lot of unknowns. I’m trying to enjoy and cherish every day, smother my kids with love, be a good wife to my husband, and live every day like it could be my last, while still looking forward to the future!

Helping others, sharing my story, and spreading awareness in hopes of saving another mama's life is the reason I tell this with so much detail - if someone someday remembers one tiny piece, it could save a loved one. Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you to all the doctors and staff at Cardiology Associates Medical Group, Emergency Room, Diane Cornell, Cath Lab, and CCU at Community Memorial Hospital, and Women’s Health Partnership, all in Ventura, CA and to the American Heart Association's research, all who saved my life. I love you all and wouldn’t be here without you!!!

Love, Light, and Hope –

Leslie Schmidt


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