Skip to Content

NorthShore’s online source for timely health and wellness news, inspiring patient stories and tips to lead a healthy life.

Healthy You

Quick Action Saves New Mom from Cardiac Peril

Thursday, March 01, 2018 11:05 AM

Six-month-old Christopher Trulley has his mom’s beautiful blue eyes and easy-going disposition, but best of all, he has her. Two weeks after her third child was born last July, Sarah Trulley suffered a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), a potentially deadly tear in one of her heart’s main arteries. An uncommon condition, most SCAD patients are healthy young women without the conventional risk factors for heart disease.


Sudden Symptoms, Fast Action
Trulley, of Evanston, knew something was seriously wrong when pain, which first felt like indigestion, began intensifying and was accompanied by shortness of breath and nausea. She called her internist who sent her straight to the Emergency Department at NorthShore Evanston Hospital.

As a team of emergency physicians began running tests and calling in cardiology experts, Trulley recalled being most upset about not being able to stay with and breastfeed her infant son. A healthy, fit 36-year-old, Trulley had no immediate family history of heart disease or obvious risk factors, so a severe cardiac incident was the farthest thing from her mind.

When Interventional Cardiologist Justin Levisay, MD, saw Trulley’s angiogram, the dissection he suspected was confirmed, likely caused by the physical stress of childbirth. He knew it needed immediate repair. “Sarah was so unstable—with her heart rate down to the 20s and her blood pressure plummeting—that we had to repair the dissection with a stent to open up the artery,” explained Dr. Levisay, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

Precision Treatment
While timing was critical, the Cardiovascular Institute specialist had to move very carefully to thread the wire through the artery without making the dissection worse. Once the first of three stents was put in, the artery opened and Trulley’s condition instantly improved.

When Trulley woke up she was thrilled to have complete pain relief and also was in disbelief about what happened. “We’re so grateful to live in an area with such a good hospital and experienced doctors,” she said.

After taking it easy for a few weeks, Trulley successfully completed cardiac rehab and was cleared to resume her regular activities. “It’s very unlikely this will ever happen again,” noted Dr. Levisay.

Looking ahead to a healthy future, Trulley knows Christopher’s birthday will always be extra special, and a reminder of just how fortunate she is to be reunited with her baby.