Fears Eased by the Magee-Womens Heart Program
When Suzi Glass was diagnosed with spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) and fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) by her cardiologist in 2020, she felt scared and uncertain. She had just suffered a heart attack and knew that lifestyle changes would be necessary moving forward.
“My youngest grandchild is two, and he would come over and lift up his arms to me and say ‘Nina, pick me up,’ and I couldn’t, I wasn’t allowed,” Suzi says. “That broke my heart more than anything.”
Yet, her fears were eased after being referred to Katie Berlacher, MD, director of the Magee-Womens Heart Program, who she met for the first time via Telehealth in January 2021. Suzi lives in Altoona, Pa., and her cardiologist recommended scheduling a video visit with Dr. Berlacher, who specializes in women’s heart health.
Suzi wasn’t only unable to lift her grandchild when he ran up to her – her heart attack left her unable to lift anything heavier than five pounds. However, after being referred to the Magee-Womens Heart Program and beginning cardiac rehabilitation at UPMC Altoona, she’s back on track to regaining her strength and stamina.
“When they first told me in August, ‘you can’t lift more than five pounds; you have to do this for six months; it may be your total lifestyle,’ I was afraid to get my heart rate up,” Suzi says. “Dr. Berlacher clarified things for me.”
Heart Complications Spanning Two Decades
Suzi’s heart complications began with a diagnosis of mitral valve prolapse (MVP) in the early 2000s. MVP is the most common form of mitral valve disease, a condition that causes the mitral valve to not open and close properly. The mitral valve has two flaps (also known as leaflets), and MVP specifically causes these leaflets to not close correctly.
“I had my first heart surgery in 2011 where they repaired my (mitral) valve, and then in 2013 I had another heart surgery where they replaced my mitral valve with a mechanical valve.”
Almost 10 years after her first heart surgery, Suzi suffered a heart attack that resulted from SCAD, which is a tear inside an artery. This condition can slow or block blood flow to the heart, which can cause various heart conditions and emergency situations.
Anybody can develop SCAD, but it most commonly affects women in their 40s or 50s.
After her heart attack, Suzi was diagnosed with FMD, which typically affects the carotid or renal arteries. The condition causes abnormal cells to form in the walls of arteries, which leads them to narrow and weaken, and ultimately limit blood flow.
Like SCAD, FMD most commonly affects women, just in a slightly different age range (between the ages of 25 and 50). Experts like Dr. Berlacher at the Magee-Womens Heart Program treat women with SCAD, FMD, and many other heart-and-vascular-related conditions every day.
“I wasn’t allowed to lift my grandchildren,” Suzi says. “I wasn’t allowed to do anything, and it was very overwhelming to hear this news.”
Video Visits with Magee-Womens Heart Program
Initially, these diagnoses left Suzi incredibly overwhelmed, but her first video visit with Dr. Berlacher in January 2021 left her feeling reassured that she can live a normal life with her conditions. She had a follow-up virtual appointment with Dr. Berlacher in February, and moving forward, will continue having regular checkups with her cardiologist and attending cardiac rehabilitation at UPMC Altoona.
After her video visits with Dr. Berlacher, Suzi is also on a new blood pressure medication to control her heart rate. Suzi said she already feels much better after these preliminary aspects of her treatment plan.
“I just started cardiac rehab at UPMC here at Altoona,” Suzi says. “It started to give me a lot of security, I feel so much better. It’s given me my strength back a little bit.”
Once travel restrictions due to COVID-19 are lessened, Suzi plans to see Dr. Berlacher in-person at least once a year. She described her experience with Dr. Berlacher and her team as “amazing” and “accommodating,” and said Dr. Berlacher has even been checking in with her to ask about other symptoms she may be experiencing.
“The specialists made me feel comfortable the entire 45 minutes I was with them virtually. We set up another appointment for a month after that, and in between (appointments) I had phone calls from them asking how I was doing,” Suzi says. “I’ve had a very wonderful experience with my doctors – I can’t wait to meet them in person.”
About the Magee-Womens Heart Program
The Magee-Womens Heart Program, part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, specializes in treating women’s heart disease, which encompasses a wide range of heart conditions. Experts at the Magee-Womens Heart Program have experience treating women of all ages and provide world-class care and individualized treatment plans for their patients.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 412-641-8870 or complete the form on our website.
Suzi's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.