Music teacher survives rare type of heart attack after living with 'ticking time bomb'

Alison played the piano for staff at the Bristol Heart Institute

A schoolteacher from Wiltshire is raising awareness of a rare heart condition after she suffered a rare type of heart attack.

Alison Potter, who teaches music, maths and English at the Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, had a heart attack at home in June.

It was caused by a condition called spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD).

SCAD occurs when a tear or bruise develops in one of the coronary arteries and prevents blood flow.

It goes largely undiagnosed as, unlike other heart conditions, it mainly affects young and middle-aged women who have none or a few of the traditional risk factors associated with heart disease.

Alison said although the attack was a surprise, the first aid training she'd had at the school kept her alive.

“It was 9.30am on a Sunday morning, all I did was walk down the stairs but as soon as I went into the kitchen to make breakfast, there was an instant banging pain in the centre of my chest and I immediately broke out into a clammy sweat,” she said.

“I shouted upstairs to my daughter Niamh, and calmly sat down with a glass of water. I remembered my own first aid training from school and knew the importance of getting oxygen to the organs.

“I went into a rhythm of deep breathing, I was surprisingly calm, which kept everybody else calm. I called Niamh who called an ambulance, which got here in 10 minutes.

“As soon as ambulance staff ran an ECG, they turned to my girls and told them I was having a heart attack, but that I was going to be okay.”

Alison was blue-lighted to the Bristol Heart Institute, where she spent five days.

She didn’t find out she’d had a SCAD heart attack until the day she was discharged. Doctors believe the tear repaired itself on the way to the hospital.

“When doctors first investigated, they were expecting to find a blocked artery and put a stent in but were surprised to see that my heart wasn’t damaged.

“The hospital has an amazing surgeon, Dr Johnson, who specialises in SCAD he turned to me on my day of discharge and told me I’d had a very rare heart attack.

“There’s not a lot of research into them so I’ve had my data shared with research groups across the world.”

Alison's daughter Niamh organised a fundraiser for the condition Credit: Alison Potter

Around 80-90% of SCAD sufferers are women. Although doctors do not know what causes the condition, charity Beat SCAD says some associations have been described with pregnancy and post-partum, menopause, connective tissue disorders, extreme stress, fibromuscular dysplasia and extreme exercise.

Although Alison has been told there is a one in 10 chance of her having another heart attack, she is using her energy to raise awareness of the condition.

“You could view it as you’re living with a ticking time bomb, but I’m taking the nine in ten chance that it won’t happen again,” she said.

She’s now using her teaching experience and passion for music to organise fundraising for heart research.

“Straight after coming out of hospital I put a post on Facebook explaining the condition to family and friends because awareness is key.

“There’s so much power in music - doctors and nurses at the Bristol Heart Institute loved hearing me play so I’m definitely looking at organising some big music events to support research."

Alison’s daughter Niamh has kicked off the family’s fundraising, raising more than £1,000 for Beat SCAD and the British Heart Foundation in an event at Royal Wootton Bassett Memorial Hall.

Alison was musical director for the Royal Wootton Bassett Swingband for more than a decade. The band, including Alison’s three children, played at the charity event.

Royal Wootton Bassett Swingband played at the event, which raised money for the British Heart Foundation and Beat SCAD Credit: Alison Potter

“The event was meant to happen in the Highstreet of Royal Wootton Bassett Memorial Hall in Royal Wootton Bassett, but out of respect for The Queen it was made private at the last minute,” Niamh said.

“Local businesses were excellent, Beavirs the law firm donated £200, and independent shops came together to provide refreshments and programmes.

Alison said: “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the band played Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Music is just such a beautiful way to bring people together and it was great to raise awareness with all three of my children playing."

More information on spontaneous coronary artery dissection can be found on the Beat SCAD website.