April Rourke personifies an active, fit lifestyle as wife, mother and school teacher. Yet, five months ago, at age 36, she had a heart attack.
Looking back, Rourke recalled, the week before the start of school had been hectic. On Monday, Aug. 31, she came upon an accident scene on I-94 and became a good Samaritan. Rourke, of Sterling Heights, pulled over to assist and called 911. She was the first responder. Later, she experienced chest pain.
Preparing her classroom
She hustled to prep her classroom for the first day of school.
By late Thursday, her classroom was complete. Rourke was ready to enjoy the long Labor Day weekend. She beat the rush to her cottage near West Branch by leaving that evening. While the mother of three had expectations of family time at the lake, a medical emergency turned her holiday and life upside-down.
On Friday, Sept. 4, her first full day at the family’s cottage in Northern Michigan, the pain worsened.
“I was having horrible pain in my chest,” Rourke said. “I couldn’t get comfortable. I wondered, ‘Was this a muscle spasm?’ It didn’t get better. I was crying because I was in so much pain. My pinky finger was going numb. I thought it might be a pinched nerve.”
That’s when she decided to drive herself to West Branch to an after-hours clinic. There, medical staffers drew blood and performed an electrocardiogram. Rourke remembers being told the EKG results were strange. She was advised to go to the hospital, West Branch Regional Medical Center, across the street. Not knowing the severity of her condition, Rourke drove herself there.
At the hospital, she wasn’t sure what all the test results meant, but was told there was no time for a ground ambulance; doctors needed to get her downstate to see a heart specialist, stat. She was told a medical helicopter, Beaumont One, was on its way to take her to Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
She remembered thinking, “Wow! This is starting to get serious. I still wasn’t quite sure what was going on with my heart.”
Beaumont One landed in the hospital parking lot, and about an hour later, it arrived at the Royal Oak campus. A cardiac team was awaiting her arrival in the Emergency Center. “They hooked me up to a monitor and I was then taken to the Cath Lab,” Rourke recalled.
It was touch and go. The medical team didn’t know if she was going to make it. “They called my family and requested they get to the hospital ASAP,” Rourke said.
Widow maker blockage
“Her left descending artery, also known as the ‘widow maker,’ was 100 percent blocked,” explained cardiologist Justin Trivax, M.D. “We had to act quickly. Our team implanted a heart pump and shortly after, she experienced cardiac arrest. We resuscitated her. Once we were able to successfully restore blood flow in the artery, her condition stabilized. A few days later, we inserted stents into the arteries.”
Rourke would later learn a blood clot in her heart caused her heart attack. The cardiac team also discovered she has a rare condition known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. This condition caused her blood clot. They found dissection or tears in all of the arteries on the left side of her heart. Not long after her tears were discovered, another was found in her neck.
SCAD is a life-threatening condition that occurs when blood vessels in the heart tear or rip suddenly. It tends to affect people ages 30-50, many of whom do not have risk factors for heart disease. If this condition is not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can result in sudden death.
After about 10 days at Beaumont, Dr. Trivax determined Rourke was well enough to be released, provided she made some lifestyle changes. That included lifting no more than 5 pounds and restricting her activities.
Fast forward to February, and Rourke’s recovery is progressing well. Her energy level is improving and she recently completed Beaumont’s cardiac rehabilitation program. Dr. Trivax is pleased with her status.
“April has had comprehensive genetic counseling, which has not shown any abnormality,” Dr. Trivax said. “She had a follow-up CT scan, which showed the rips in her heart arteries have healed almost completely. The stents looked perfect, too.”
Dr. Trivax is thankful to the Beaumont One team, “April’s condition was declining quickly and would have not done well traveling by ground transportation,” he said.
Rourke too spoke of her gratitude for the crew of Beaumont One and Dr. Trivax. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but their transport and in-flight care was vital. Without their timely assistance and the expertise of the cardiac team at Beaumont, I don’t believe I would have made it.”