In 2016, Tara Loutit was living a full and busy life, raising three young kids with her husband and working as a nursing instructor. As an active and healthy 45-year-old, the last thing on her mind was the risk of a heart attack.

But in the spring of that year, the unthinkable happened – Tara suffered a catastrophic heart attack. It was the result of a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), which is a partial (or sometimes complete) obstruction of the coronary artery that causes blood to build up between the layers of the artery wall and restricts blood flow to the heart. Thankfully, the quick response from paramedics and lifesaving treatment from doctors and surgeons kept Tara alive, but her heart was severely damaged, and she had a long road to recovery.

Dr Saw’s world-leading expertise
When the cardiologist treating Tara identified the cause of the heart attack, they immediately reached out to Dr. Jacqueline Saw, an Interventional Cardiologist at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). Dr. Saw pioneered the research and management of SCAD and was the best person to lead Tara through her SCAD survivor journey. With Dr. Saw’s world-leading expertise, Tara was on the optimal path to rehabilitation with medication and monitoring.

“I was constantly having to educate myself in order to inform health professionals about my SCAD. But Dr. Saw’s expertise meant she already knew everything about my condition, and she was so firm in her knowledge that it was very comforting to be treated by her.”

VGH’s SCAD rehab program
But medication was not the only thing Tara would need to support her recovery – she needed to attend a cardiac rehab program to help build up her heart’s stamina and learn how to live with this diagnosis. After a few months of attending a senior’s cardiology rehab program at another hospital, she felt she needed a better fit. She met with a nurse from VGH’s SCAD rehab clinic and decided to join their program. The new rehab clinic was specific to her needs, and she was surrounded by people closer to her age who were also recovering from SCAD.

The SCAD rehab program – with the support of the rehab team, Dr. Saw and the other patients – gave Tara hope. It empowered her to live her life and reduced her anxiety of having another heart attack. She explained how the looming terror of another potential sudden cardiac event affected her life, “I lived in a lot of fear. I was so caught off guard by the first heart attack, and I was terrified that it would happen again.”

The SCAD rehab program provided Tara with the information she needed to understand her diagnosis and helped her re-strengthen her heart through a monitored exercise program. As she got more involved, she built relationships and found herself surrounded by a community that supported each other.

She reminisced on her time in the SCAD rehab program at VGH and said, “I felt seen. I felt like they knew me as an individual and I wasn’t just another diagnosis. The rehab program gave me my confidence back and changed my life.”

Tara Loutit and husband

Tara’s heart health journey
Today Tara continues to live a full life with her family and runs SCAD BC – a local support group started by herself and fellow rehab patients. It provides social, emotional and educational support for SCAD survivors and their families. She is grateful for the continued commitment that Dr. Saw and VGH have to heart health, especially for advancing research and care for women’s heart health issues.

“Dr. Saw has allowed me to rest in the knowledge that she is doing all that she can to further research into SCAD. This has greatly contributed to my health and healing journey.”

Tara Loutit and family

Donor support helps attract top-tier talent in BC
Patients like Tara are able to rebuild their life after a devastating heart disease diagnosis thanks to the unprecedented expertise of people like Dr. Saw. By investing in people, the Division of Cardiology at VGH and UBC Hospital has been able to establish over fifteen subspecialty clinics, like the SCAD clinic. These clinics provide patients with tailored care and access to top specialists found nowhere else in BC.

By supporting VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s Heart of Cardiology campaign, you can contribute to the dream of assembling top-tier heart specialists to provide world-class patient care in the fight to erase heart disease. Dr. Saw is one of the cardiologists already being supported by donors like you, and with additional support, the Division can continue to nurture emerging leaders, attract top talent and retain experienced physicians right here in Vancouver.

Now is the time to build capacity through people for the future of patients like Tara.

Donate today and together, we can transform cardiac care on a scale that would not otherwise be possible.