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‘I was told I’d die if I had a baby’

Women who survive a heart attack caused by a condition called SCAD are usually told not to have chil..

Women who survive a heart attack caused by a condition called SCAD are usually told not to have children due to the risk of it happening again. Now the first babies are being born at the world's first clinic that helps heart attack survivors to have a baby.

Hayley Martin, 47, vividly remembers the morning her life changed forever.

"I woke up and I felt very, very poorly. I put my hands to my head and I was drenched in sweat. I knew straight away it was a heart attack," she told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

She was a healthy 38-year-old when she had a Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD), a rare and often undiagnosed condition.

It is the leading cause of heart attacks in women of childbearing age, affecting around 1,000 women a year.

It occurs when there is a sudden tear in one of the coronary arteries, blocking the flow of blood to the heart.

In hospital, Hayley, from Congleton in Cheshire, feared the worst.

"I can remember saying to them, 'am I dying?' And they just kept saying, 'we've tried everything we can, but nothing is working,'" she said.

'I felt less of a woman'

She survived, but like many women with SCAD, was told pregnancy would mean the risk of another heart attack.

"I think it was another thing that was stolen from me, so I almost don't allow myself to think about it, because it could take you down a dark path of sadness," Hayley reflected.

"I felt less of a person, less of a woman, more of a failure, like I was faulty."

What is SCAD?

  • Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) is an under-diagnosed heart condition
  • It affects mainly women, occasionally during – or soon after – pregnancy
  • Menopause, extreme stress and exercise have also been associated with it
  • During an attack, a sudden tear or bruise develops in one of the coronary arteries blocking the blood follow
  • It can cause death, heart failure, cardiac arrest, and require heart bypass surgery

Source: Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit

Patient's decision

Hayley is the kind of woman who consultant cardiologist Dr Abi Al-Hussaini is trying to help, with her clinic at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Dr Al-Hussaini assesses the damage done to the heart by the SCAD and reviews the patient's medication, generally lowering the amount they are on.

She uses that information to advise the patient how risky a pregnancy could be.

This does mean sometimes she has to advise that the risk to health might be very high, but the key is the patient makes the decision, rather than the usual blanket advice not to get pregnant.

If one of her patients decides to proceed, they are referred to the pre-existing "high risk pregnancy team" at the hospital, who monitor them throughout the pregnancy.

"I have seen a lot of patients over the last few years who have come to me unhappy that they have been told they cannot have a child ever again," she explained.

"That's one of the reasons I established the clinic, to give these patients the correct advice and allow them to make an informed decision themselves."

She believes a lack of research into the condition is why most cardiologists prefer the blanket advice.

Sharp pain

One of the first women helped by the clinic was Julie Murphy, 40, from Ruislip.

Shortly before her honeymoon in 2013, she started to feel unwell, like she had flu. While on holiday in Kenya, the symptoms got worse.

Then, while swimming, she had a sharp pain in her chest. When she got home, she had tests on her heart and, "the next day I found out I'd had a heart attack".

The days and weeks that followed were very tough.

"All the medication I was on really slowed me down so I couldn't even walk up the stairs when I came home from hospital. That was really difficult to get my head around," she says.

Like Hayley, Julie was initially told she would not be able to have children. But she became part of a research project led by Dr Al-Hussaini and had her first daughter, Holly, in 2015.

'Awesome team'

She then became one of the clinic's first patients when she became pregnant for a second time.

"I was worried that they would say there's no possibility or it would be too dangerous for us to try to have a baby, that it might mean that I'm putting my life at risk," she said.

Bella was born in April.

"They're such an awesome team that you felt so looked after," Julie said.

Despite the hope she is giving patients, Dr Al-Hussaini says she has encountered resistance from doctors around the world, in terms of what advice they give their patients.

"In America, they are against becoming pregnant any time after a heart attack, or having had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection," she said.

"But again, I think that's because there hasn't been a huge amount of research – but there is a growing amount of research at the moment that's been developed."

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The organization helping to bring new drugs for rare diseases to market

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval o..

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval on Friday to begin a clinical trial for a new pediatric brain cancer drug, one that might have ended up overlooked by pharmaceutical companies.

The lead researcher on the team, Dr. Teresa Purzner has already beat impossible odds. The neurosurgeon and mom of three managed to get the approval in record time and with little money thanks to the help of a team of scientific altruists called SPARK.

The development of new medications in the United States is driven by pharmaceutical companies; researchers at universities rarely bring their discoveries to the bedside. For every 10,000 potential new medicines sitting on laboratory shelves around the country, only one will ever reach patients in need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because the process can take 10 to 15 years, costing upwards of a billion dollars per drug.

As a result, the number of new medications approved by the FDA has remained stagnant at about 31 per year over the past 10 years. The majority of these medications are similar to already existing ones, and many target diseases for which there are large markets — like hypertension and high cholesterol — and therefore, a return on investment.

Enter SPARK, a non-profit program created in partnership between Stanford University and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and investment industries, which helps academic researchers bring their discoveries to patients. Since its founding, SPARK has given special consideration to projects typically neglected by pharmaceutical companies, including rare diseases and diseases affecting children.

Purzner put her neurosurgery practice on pause to study medulloblastoma, a type of childhood brain cancer. Compared to diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol, which affect millions of Americans, medulloblastoma is rare, affecting only 250 to 500 children every year.

“Theres something especially poignant about seeing children —beautiful, wonderful, innocent things — and seeing the impact of the therapies we are giving them. The medications, the radiation therapies impact their cognition, their quality of life and their ability to function as independent adults in the future,” Purzner said in an interview with ABC News.

Purzner had a clear goal: to find a targeted therapy that could shut down the basic biochemical pathway responsible for the development of this cancer, and she did. She tested the potential drug in mice with good results, and she just received FDA approval to test it in clinical trials, which she will do through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. She did it all in five years and for a price tag of $500,000.

“To get from my initial findings in the lab to the point where the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium picked it up for clinical trials would have never happened without the help of SPARK… they gave me a clear pathway and made me believe it was possible,” said Purzner.

Every year, SPARK provides 10 teams with funding and expert mentorship to promote efficient and cost-effective drug development. (more…)

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Widowed father works with congresswoman on legislation to prevent maternal deaths

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

“I was overjoyed. I reme..

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

"I was overjoyed. I remember thinking my family is complete," Charles Johnson told ABC News.

But then he looked down and saw his wife Kiras catheter turn pink and then red with blood.

April 12, 2016 was supposed to be a joyous day for the Johnson family, but it turned into a "nightmare."

Ten hours later, Kira Johnson died as a result of internal bleeding following a cesarean section.

Now, two years later, Johnson is raising two children on his own and advocating to rectify the country's maternal health policies and regulations to prevent anyone else from sharing the same tragedy. Johnson took to Capitol Hill to share his wife's story before members of Congress, working alongside a congresswoman who experienced her own personal difficulties during pregnancy.

Charles and Kira Johnson welcomed their first son Charles V. in 2014. He was delivered via C-section. Two years later, the Johnson family relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and learned they were expecting their second baby boy.

"Kira and I had always wanted two boys," Johnson said. "I was excited."

The Johnsons decided to have Langston delivered at Cedars Sinai medical center, a non-profit hospital that is currently ranked as the eighth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Charles Johnson said his wife was in exceptional health and that she took all the necessary prenatal measures to ensure their second child would be born healthy. Since their first son was born via C-section, the doctor suggested the same for their second. (more…)

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States look to breathalyze convicted drunk drivers to reduce fatalities

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that ha..

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that have laws requiring drivers with drunken-driving convictions to install breathalyzers in vehicles they own or operate.

Researchers, public health advocates and political leaders believe these laws are helping reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

The gadgets, known as ignition interlock devices, are mounted on the steering wheel of a vehicle and prevent it from starting if the drivers blood-alcohol reading is above a predetermined level.

In California, the breathalyzers are mandatory only for repeat offenders. Five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio — have similar laws. Thirty-two states and D.C. require the devices even for first-time offenders.

The advent of such laws across the United States in the past 15 years has been accompanied by some good news: Deaths involving drunken driving are only about half of what they were in the early 1980s, though they have ticked back up in recent years. The long-term decline is largely attributable to greater public awareness, stricter seat belt enforcement and the establishment in 2000 of a nationwide legal blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent — far below the 0.15 percent standard commonly used before then.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the author of the California law, said breathalyzers in cars will make roads safer than under the current law, which generally relies on license restrictions and suspensions.

“Weve seen people on a suspended license continue to drive and continue to cause destruction,” said Hill, who lost his best friend to drunken driving in the 1980s.

There is some evidence that the breathalyzers have an impact. Nationally, from 2006 to 2016, ignition-locking breathalyzers prevented 2.3 million attempts to drive by people with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence — according to a 2017 report by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Emma McGinty, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that laws requiring interlocks for all DUI offenders were associated with a 7 percent drop in the rate of fatal crashes caused by drunken drivers. Another study found that laws covering all offenders were associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities compared with states that have less stringent laws. (more…)

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