Going back to work after a heart attack!

One of my biggest goals post-heart attack was to get the word out that you can have a "new normal." Today I was able to continue that goal by participating in an article from the American Heart Association. This article discusses why it can be the "best medicine" to return to work.  If you find yourself reading this article and are recovering from a heart attack or some other life-altering event this article is for you.


Returning to work after a heart attack can be tough, but also good medicine




After five weeks off recovering from her heart attack, Melissa Murphy looked forward to returning to her job.

“I’m back out, and I’m contributing again,” the Iowa mother of two remembered thinking. “I’m not a victim, which is how you sometimes feel when you’re sitting on your couch and everybody leaves to go to work or school and you’re left with your thoughts.”

But she occasionally ran into a few bumps during her transition. As someone who sometimes travels hours at a time for her work in the pharmaceutical industry, Murphy initially was nervous to be so far away from emergency help. And her anxiety already was heightened from adjusting to a work schedule far more rigid than the month of relaxed daily routines she had just left behind.

Returning to work after a heart attack often requires patients to clear unexpected psychological hurdles in addition to the physical ones they already face.

But the effort could pay off. Research suggests going back to work can be critical to fighting off depression and improving overall health, in addition to avoiding financial hardships.

In a study published last month in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, nine out of 10 people who suffered a major heart attack had returned to work within a year. For those who didn’t, or who ended up working less, many reported depression, a poor quality of life and money problems that made it difficult to pay for medication.

Dr. Haider Warraich, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center and the lead author of the study, said relaying such findings to patients can help reassure them about the safety of returning to work. His research looked at more than 9,300 heart attack patients, more than half of whom were employed at the time of their heart attack.

“There are a lot of misconceptions around whether work-related stress might cause a heart attack,” he said. “While stress is a risk factor for heart disease, it’s much lower than traditional factors like [high] blood pressure and smoking.”

In addition, “treatments for heart attacks are better than they’ve ever been,” Warraich said. “That kind of information might help ease some of the fears or psychological barriers patients might have about returning to work.”

For survivors, the question “will I ever get back to where I was before?” pops up repeatedly.



Melissa Murphy said her family helped her overcome anxiety when she returned to work after a heart attack. Murphy with her husband, Joseph, and children Brenna and Parker. (Photo courtesy of Gretchen Scott Photography)

Murphy, who was 40 when she suffered her May 2016 heart attack, remembers having to check in with her husband every time she left and returned home to assure him she hadn’t relapsed.

The same kind of thinking followed her to work, when she was driving hours at a stretch on remote highways.

“I kept thinking, ‘What if I don’t have cell phone service and I have another heart attack,’” said Murphy. “That was very anxiety-provoking because I thought, if I’m in a small town that doesn’t have a hospital, how is the ambulance going to get to me in time?”

Rachel Dreyer, who co-wrote an accompanying editorial to Warraich’s study, said the findings are “a call to action” for doctors to look beyond a clinical perspective.

“How do we help patients transition from hospital to cardiac rehabilitation and to maintenance of their long-term health? Part of this challenge is helping patients return to work,” said Dreyer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale University’s School of Medicine.

The study found patients who had excessive bleeding after their heart attack or who later were readmitted to the hospital were less likely to return to work than people who didn’t have such complications.

That – both Dreyer and Warraich noted – can help doctors identify patients at higher risk of not returning to work and who might need additional attention.

“Employment represents well-being and good health, and not being able to get back to work leads to detrimental effects, which we know from the literature can mean an impact on physical and mental health,” Dreyer said.

For Murphy, returning to work meant returning to a “new normal.”

“The sooner you can get back to that normalcy the better, because it can be so easy to spiral down into an anxious depression,” she said. “But you really, really must rely on your support system – from family to friends to coworkers – to get there.”

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

July 25th, 2018|Heart AttackHeart DiseasePatientsResearchWomen|0 Comments

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Time to take a road trip to Kansas City to learn about SCAD!



While most people head to Kansas City, MO for barbecue my trip took on a different mission. I loaded up the car with my daughter Brenna as my co-pilot and set the GPS for St. Luke's Hospital. Our mission: To learn as much about SCAD, Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.

My daughter happened to be studying hearts in science and wanted to go along to see what caused my heart attack. I was a little hesitant at first because she's only 12. What if she hears words such as morbidity or mortality? Will it freak her out? Will she have more questions than when we set out? In the end, it ended up being a fantastic experience for both of us.  Not many 12-year-olds get to hear a public forum on SCAD conducted by two amazing Cardiologists.

The SCAD talk conducted by Dr. Jason Lindsey and Dr. Tracey Stevens at Muriel I. Kauffman Women's Heart Center in Kansas City, MO. The 90-minute discussion flew by! I ended up with pages and pages of notes and still wanted to hear more. At one point I looked over at Brenna, and she was taking notes. I was in shock. Here a 12 year old was taking notes on a subject where there's no test!   Although there are more questions than answers known about SCAD, it's so intriguing to see what might be the cause. 



While I was at the talk, the American Heart Association put out a scientific statement on SCAD. This inspiring news and the massive step in the right direction. Many times when I tell people my story and tell them my heart attack cause was SCAD and not plaque they are confused. My goal is to educate everyone and let them know that it can happen to anyone.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the SCAD town hall: (These are from my notes taken from Dr. Lindsey and Dr. Stevens town hall

1. SCAD accounts for less than 0.5% of heart attacks, but it accounts for 25% of heart attacks for people under 50 years old.

2. 9:1 ratio women to men. Still not understood as to why

3. The person is healthy without risk factors

4. There can be a hormonal relationship, most common cause of pregnancy heart attacks.  Non-Pregnancy related SCAD is much more common. 

5. Genetic link??

5. Medical management, no approved drugs for SCAD. 

6. SCAD Symptoms: 45% Chest Pain, 24% Palpitations, 21% Shortness of Breath

7. Ask to have your doctor rule out Fibromuscular Dysplasia ( seen in around 60% of patients)

8. 57% postmenopausal,  rare in 65y/o and higher, 10% malignant arrhythmias, 5% Connective Tissue disorder, 12% Systemic Inflammatory disease


10. Prognosis: Recurrent SCAD around 10%

11. 10-year mortality 1.1%

12.  Most dissections will heal in 1 month. Not placing a stent is a better treatment plan.  Avoid hormone replacement, Usual medicines Asprin and Beta Blockers. Cardiac rehab has been shown to decrease rates of recurrent SCAD.

Future Direction: Genetic Predisposition? Determine how to prevent the 1st event and recurrent events.  Ask for a CT coronary angiogram for follow up if needed and not a PCI.

THE NEED to have a prospective registry.

If you are a SCAD Survivor,  join the SCAD ALLIANCE at www.scadalliance.org #SCADheart


As Brenna and I drove home we discussed what we had learned. I was shocked at how she retained the information from the night before. We both agreed that more research needs to be done, still too many unanswered questions. 

In the end, it's up to us to get out there and not only educate ourselves but others! I'm just one SCAD survivor trying to make a difference!