In 2017, Melissa Souza of New Bedford underwent a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) when a blockage was found in her heart at age 29. Five years later, she is making it her mission to spread awareness about heart health, as she is living proof that even a healthy, young adult needs to be aware of the signs the body might be sending.

Melissa’s Story

“I was the healthiest I had ever been,” Souza said. In 2017, she quit smoking cigarettes and switched over to e-cigarettes. One night, while at a wedding with her boyfriend, she felt a crushing sensation in her chest while using her e-cigarette.

“It was a weird sensation, but it went away,” she said.

Over the next two days, the weird pain came and went. It was alarming to Souza, but still, she brushed it off. By the third day, she decided to go to the doctor.

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Her primary care physician ordered an electrocardiogram to examine her heart and the result was "fine," Souza said, so she was sent home. The pain, however, persisted.

Over the next three-and-a-half weeks, Souza continued to visit her doctor with chest pain. She advocated for herself by demanding attention, and after almost a month, she was administered a stress test that revealed a blockage near her heart.

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

“The doctor said if I didn’t advocate for myself, I was a ticking time bomb to have a massive heart attack,” Souza said.

The doctors couldn’t understand why this was happening to a healthy 29-year-old with perfect cholesterol, but a trip to Mass General resulted in a SCAD diagnosis, an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. SCAD is short for spontaneous coronary artery dissection

“This is not your typical heart attack. This is happening to young, healthy women,” Souza said.

Symptoms can include chest pain, a rapid or fluttering heartbeat; pain in the arms, shoulder, back or jaw; shortness of breath; sweating; unusual or extreme tiredness; nausea and dizziness.

Listen to Your Body When it Comes to Heart Health

Souza shared that SCAD is the leading cause of heart attacks in pregnant and postpartum women.

The Mayo Clinic reported this condition commonly affects women in their 40s and 50s, though it can occur at any age and in men as well. The scary component of SCAD is that it is typically not paired with risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

Souza pleads with women, especially, to listen to their bodies.

“I feel like us, women, take of everyone else first, and put ourselves second,” she said. “Listen to your body. You know when something is not right.”

Souza will be 35 in March, with two, bright children and a devoted partner. She lived to see another day because she chose to listen to her body and advocate for herself.

In honor of Heart Health Month and SCAD Awareness week (Feb. 19-25), keep Melissa Souza’s story in mind and pay attention to what your body is telling you.

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