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When 42-year-old dietitian Alicia Fogarty began feeling arm and jaw pain while giving a health talk last fall, the last thing she expected was that she was having a heart attack.

Alicia, a mother of four, was the picture of health – she exercised regularly, maintained a healthy diet, and had no family history or known risk factors for heart disease.

“When I first felt the pain, I thought, maybe I’m coming down with the flu, or maybe it’s my blood sugar,” says Alicia. “At that point, it didn’t cross my mind that it could be something more serious.”

But the pain got worse, and Alicia woke up in the middle of the night feeling like she’d been “punched in the chest.” She knew then that something wasn’t right – and that all symptoms pointed to a problem with her heart.

A trip to Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville quickly confirmed the truth: Alicia had suffered a rare type of heart attack that occurs when the artery wall suddenly tears. Known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD, it’s a type of heart attack that many don’t survive – usually because its victims are typically otherwise healthy women who dismiss their symptoms and don’t seek care, or who are misdiagnosed.

“I’m so lucky that my husband and I recognized the symptoms of a heart attack and that he called 911,” says Alicia. “And when I got to the hospital, I was fortunate to be treated as a potential heart attack patient even though I didn’t fit the profile.”

John Cedarholm, MD, an interventional cardiologist with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, recognized Alicia’s symptoms. He then performed surgery to open the blockage and repair her damaged artery.

Alicia, who now takes medications to protect her heart and help prevent the condition from returning, also started cardiac rehabilitation at Sanger to regain a healthy heart and work her way back to her previous fitness level. She continues to eat right and stay active, and she’s committed to raising awareness of SCAD throughout the community.

“It’s so important to recognize the heart attack signs and symptoms,” she says, “and make the right decision to call 911.”

Today, Alicia is back to living life to the fullest, enjoying every moment with her children and her clients – and staying thankful she survived her “hidden” heart attack. She says she cherishes every moment with her family with a deeper sense of gratitude.

“I’m still here to watch my daughter play soccer, or play piano. I’m still here to enjoy our family dinners,” she says. “That’s what really means the most to me.”