From L-R: VGH Drs. Jacqueline Saw, Sharlene Gill, Gayatri Sreenivasan, and Kerry Savage at the inaugural SCAD 5K Fun Run/Walk in 2018

One morning in November 2012, Birte Hunter was out for a jog with her dogs. Halfway through her run, Birte felt a tightening in her back and a pain in her chest.

“I had a dog on each arm, and suddenly it felt like there was a knot in the middle of my back, and then that knot went right from the middle of my back into my heart,” says Birte. “I knew exactly where my heart was, and I kind of stopped running, going Oh my gosh, I think I’m having a heart attack.”


Birte managed to walk back home and call an ambulance. She was taken to a hospital where she received an angiogram and was told her heart muscles were weakened from a virus she caught abroad. She was then sent home.

At this moment Birte became another young, healthy woman with a misdiagnosed heart problem — an issue only Dr. Jacqueline Saw of VGH could help with.

Birte Hunter

Answering questions of the heart

At VGH, Dr. Saw was researching Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) when she happened upon Birte’s file. Flipping through, she suspected Birte didn’t have a virus.

Dr. Saw called Birte in right away and new testing confirmed her suspicion: Birte had SCAD.

SCAD is a rare heart condition that primarily affects young women. It’s not fully understood as to why, but since 2011 Dr. Saw has worked to find the answers.

“In 2011 I saw three cases where young, healthy women presented with a heart attack in the course of two weeks,” says Dr. Saw. “In the angiograms I saw some unusual appearances that did not look like what I was taught in medical school. Those were actually SCAD cases, that without new imaging technology, we would not have picked it up.”

In the following years, Dr. Saw has transformed into a world leader in SCAD research, rehabilitation and treatment. She established the world’s first SCAD rehabilitation clinic at VGH, began a registry for SCAD patients and started a genetic study to gain invaluable, long-term data. This would all be used to gain and disseminate knowledge in the medical community, ultimately improving treatments and saving the lives of women in BC.

SCAD rehabilitation is saving lives

Birte suffered from two more heart attacks after her first incident, each from a different artery in her heart.

However, since she joined the SCAD rehabilitation clinic in February 2018, she has had no recurrences.

“I’m so blessed that the head honcho in the world is here in Vancouver and is my doctor,” says Birte. “How lucky am I with that?”

Utilizing Dr. Saw and the SCAD team’s research, the rehabilitation clinic is designed to address the physical and emotional triggers that causes cardiac arrest in SCAD patients. This includes personalized medications, set guidelines for physical activity, and meetings with psychologists.

“There’s an extraordinary benefit in being around people who are going through the same thing as you,” says Dr. Saw. “This is extremely important. And since we founded the clinic, our patients have done better than those who don’t attend.”

The SCAD registry currently has 1,000 patients, but Dr. Saw is aiming to increase that number to 3,000 to help collect stronger data and find answers to this mysterious condition.

SCAD 5K and conference

On Saturday, August 31 the VGH SCAD team and an estimated 200 participants will be conducting the second annual SCAD 5K Fun Run/Walk.

Funds raised will support the Canadian Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection Study to advance the knowledge and management of this challenging and insufficiently understood condition.

We need your help to learn more about SCAD. Read more about the 5k and donate now.