After a series of flights around the world, Meghan Stapleton was flying back to Houston and had only had six hours left on the plane. She was making her way home from a family trip to Australia and was about to surpass 30 hours of travel. After finishing a movie, Stapleton readjusted in her seat when she noticed some pain in her arm. Her fingers felt numb. No amount of stretching or moving was helping. She began to panic.
“My husband could tell I was panicking,” Stapleton said. “He did what he could to calm me down. I got home and I could tell things still weren’t right, but I blamed it on jetlag.”
Stapleton, who was 37 years old at the time, returned to Houston on June 10, 2017. While at work on Monday, June 12, Stapleton started to experience some of the same symptoms she had felt on the plane: an ache and numbness in her fingers as well as feeling out of breath and too hot. A coworker called 911 and Stapleton was taken to Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital.
Dr. Shahid Rahman, a cardiovascular disease specialist with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, performed an angiogram on Stapleton and discovered she had a rare condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). SCAD is a condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. This can result in a heart attack or heart rhythm abnormalities and has the potential to be fatal. SCAD Research says SCAD is the No. 1 cause of heart attacks in women under the age of 50.
According to the American Heart Association, researchers aren’t sure what causes SCAD, but patients are often women who are otherwise healthy, with few or no risk factors for heart disease.
Transported by Life Flight for Emergency Surgery
Stapleton’s situation had become a critical emergency, and she was transported via Memorial Hermann Life Flight® to Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center , where Dr. Keshava Rajagopal, a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon affiliated with the Institute and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, performed a double bypass surgery on Stapleton.
“I felt good for a little while after the surgery,” Stapleton said. “But it wasn’t long before I started to feel bad again. My heart couldn’t pump enough blood on its own. I suffered from cardiogenic shock and my heart could no longer heal itself. I needed a new heart to continue living.”
Stapleton’s double bypass surgery took place June 13. By July 20, she was placed on the transplant list. Five days later, they found a match and Stapleton received a new heart.
Giving Back After Coming Close to Death
“I feel really good,” Stapleton said. “I certainly have days where I’m reminded that I still have healing to do, but overall I’m amazed at the long journey I had in a short time period.”
Stapleton is approaching seven months since the transplant. She still visits Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute for checkups with Dr. Sriram Nathan, a cardiovascular disease specialist affiliated with the Institute and McGovern Medical School. Just this past weekend, Stapleton completed her first 5k since her transplant while surrounded by family and friends, who she refers to as her support network. She raised proceeds to donate toward the American Heart Association and the Be Incredibly Well Foundation, a foundation dedicated to strengthening the mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
“I just have so much gratitude for life,” Stapleton said. “All of the recent holidays reinforced the blessing of life. During Thanksgiving and Christmas I was so emotional, appreciative and in awe of all that I have been through. I owe so much to the brilliant doctors and nurses at the two hospitals where I was treated. I made friends with several people who are now like family to me. The Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute is a very special place.”
Stapleton and her husband, Mark, have two sons ages 10 and six.
“My sons are like my protectors,” Stapleton said. “I’m not sure if they truly understand what their mom went through, but they will eventually. I am so thankful for my family.”
Learn more about the life-saving heart care at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute.