October 5, 2022 was a typical day for Donnese Tyler – packed with business appointments, personal obligations and the Mother’s Club meeting at her sons’ high school. Little did she know that night her life would change forever.
At the end of the meeting, Donnese felt pressure and pain in her chest and suddenly became overwhelmed with a sense of dizziness and lightheadedness. She also had an unusual, salty taste whenever she drank water throughout the meeting. Initially, Donnese wrote off her symptoms as acid reflux but reluctantly went to the hospital under the advice of several of the moms.
“If I had not been around those moms, I would have just driven myself home and laid down,” she said. “Who knows what the outcome would have been.”
Hours later, Donnese was diagnosed with a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), caused by a sudden tear in the coronary arterial wall. The tear can lead to a blood clot in the arterial wall, which may result in a heart attack, arrhythmia or sudden cardiac arrest.
Doctors admitted her for monitoring and additional testing including an echocardiogram and coronary angiogram, and while in the hospital, she experienced a second heart event triggered by her SCAD.
Testing found Donnese had no clogged arteries or cardiovascular risks other than high blood pressure and persistent stress, which doctors believe, in combination with her hormones, contributed to her heart event. SCAD primarily affects women under the age of 50 and can strike with few obvious risk factors or warning signs as in Donnese’s case.
“A heart attack doesn’t discriminate,” she said. “Young, old, healthy, fit, underlying conditions or not.”
After being discharged from the hospital, Donnese began a journey of physical and emotional healing, which included a commitment to reclaim her health by completing our Lawyers Have Heart 5k at West Potomac Park in Washington, DC. To get her heart pumping and safely ease back into running, she started cardiac rehab and took up other forms of self-care like meditation.
On May 20, Donnese crossed the Lawyers Have Heart finish line alongside thousands of runners, walkers, heart-health advocates, survivors and legal professionals in the District. She also shared her story during our on-stage awards ceremony as a reminder to listen to your body and put well-being first. In a short, self-produced video about her recovery, Donnese strives to raise awareness of SCAD and heart attack warning signs in women including chest tightness, shortness of breath, nausea and lightheadedness, and pain in the arms, neck, back, jaw or stomach.
Her message to others is simple: “If something doesn’t feel right, do not self-diagnose. Go to the doctor, and pay attention to your body,” she said. “It might just save your life.”
This fall, Donnese is taking up a new challenge as a Leader of Impact in the Greater Washington Region. Follow along as she and other changemakers harness their creativity to raise awareness and lifesaving funds in support of our work to save and improve lives. For more information or to get involved in the campaign, contact Anne Pappas at [email protected].
Written by Brendan Locke, former Development Intern