HEALTH

Katherine Leon honored for contributions to women, heart disease

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An Alexandria mother had a heart attack at only 38 years old. She went looking for answers and couldn't find any. She decided to use social media and now thanks to her, a nationwide study is underway.

Katherine Leon is being honored for her crusade against SCAD.

On Tuesday, Katherine Leon was honored alongside Dr. Oz and the surgeon general for her contributions to women and heart disease.

Leon was just 38 years old when she feared her life might be over. She had a heart attack six weeks after giving birth to her second son, Evan.

"It was that central chest pain you hear about, arm numbness on both sides. I was afraid I was going to drop Evan," she said.

At the ER, doctors told her it might be her asthma and sent her home.

"Everybody was very confident that it was not my heart, but it was," she said.

Three days later, her husband raced her back to the ER. Doctors determined Leon was, and had been, having a heart attack. The cause? Her left artery had torn like a piece of fabric. Doctors told her she had a rare spontaneous coronary artery dissection or SCAD. She underwent a double bypass.

"You can't have a condition that kills young women and say that is okay," she said. "You can't just brush that off; you have to find out why."

Leon went looking for answers. But there was little to no data available on SCADS other than upward of 80 percent of the victims were women.

"Seventy percent death rate and they were found on autopsy; it was just a such bleak picture," she said.

Supposedly alone in her battle, Leon joined the Womenheart online support group on Inspire.

Leon and another SCAD survivor spent the next three years gathering information from women around the world. They asked renowned cardiologist D. Sharon Hayes at the Mayo Clinic to help solve the life or death mystery. Hayes agreed and now the first-ever nationwide study on women and SCADs is underway.

"I know it is a long road but it is a road that is going to lead to some kind of answers," a person said.

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