Tackling Heart Health Head On: One Woman’s Journey to Coronary Artery Disease Diagnosis and Treatment

Nov 4, 2019
Shawna Dukes and her family just months following her life-saving coronary stent procedure.

In 90-degree heat and with her heart pounding, Shawna Dukes was in her happy place as she sprinted up and down stadium stairs during the annual University of Texas women’s football training clinic. With determination in her stride, the physically fit, 58-year-old Texas native looked like she could take on anything. However, just a few short months prior, Dukes came toe-to-toe with an opponent she didn’t know how to tackle – coronary artery disease (CAD) – which led her to a coronary stent procedure to help re-open a 90-percent blocked artery and restore blood flow to her heart.  


The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that Dukes is just one of the 15 million Americans affected by CAD. The disease causes the blood vessels that feed the heart to become narrow, making it difficult for blood to flow to the heart, according to the Heart Foundation. The AHA reports that CAD is the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States. A recent AHA study found that, for women specifically, heart disease takes more lives than all cancers, respiratory diseases and Alzheimer’s disease combined. Despite these staggering statistics, only 42 percent of women aged 35 and older are concerned about heart disease.


Dukes had been diligent about seeing her doctor regularly, exercising and eating a healthy diet, so heart disease was far from her mind, until one day when she began to experience excruciating chest pain that made her struggle to catch her breath. As plaque builds in the coronary arteries of people with CAD, potential signs and symptoms may include chest pain (angina), shortness of breath, nausea or fatigue, according to Mayo Clinic. The AHA study also found that for some women, indications of CAD can be unpredictable: nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of women who die suddenly from CAD have no physical warning signs.


As her symptoms persisted, Dukes visited multiple doctors who recommended typical first-line treatments, including aspirin or blood thinners, beta blockers and nitroglycerin tablets, but nothing seemed to help alleviate her pain. Unable to enjoy her daily walks with her dog or participate in exercise classes, Dukes continued to research her symptoms and ask questions, refusing to give up her active lifestyle and let this debilitating condition be her new normal.


Her persistence led her to seek out the advice of interventional cardiologist Dr. Colin Barker at the Houston Methodist Hospital. Upon her first clinic visit, Dr. Barker performed tests to confirm a CAD diagnosis and told her she would need an immediate medical procedure to re-open her blocked artery.


Within two hours of meeting Dukes, Dr. Barker initiated a minimally-invasive procedure called a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) using a new stent, called the SYNERGY™ Bioabsorbable Polymer Drug-Eluting Stent System.


“The primary goal in treating coronary artery disease is to open arteries that have become clogged and restore blood flow to the heart as quickly as possible,” Dr. Barker says. “For Shawna, I chose the SYNERGY Stent, which is the only FDA-approved coronary stent with a bioabsorbable polymer – a special coating which dissolves along with the drug in about three to four months following implantation. Reducing the amount of time polymer stays in the vessel can prevent chronic inflammation and associated complications that patients can experience years after receiving a stent with permanent polymer.”


One week after receiving the SYNERGY Stent, Dukes was back to taking five-mile walks with her dog. Then, just a couple of months after her procedure, she was able to participate in the grueling six-hour, high-intensity women’s training clinic hosted by the University of Texas football coaching staff.  


Now Dukes uses her exercise classes to do more than stay in shape. She regularly engages groups of women in conversations about heart health by sharing her story and encourages them to talk to their doctors about available treatment options.


“My experience inspired me to educate others, especially women, about the importance of being an advocate for their own health care,” Shawna noted. “I often tell people, ‘don’t be afraid to seek out a second opinion and do your own research. Asking questions could save your life.’”


Top questions to ask your doctor about Coronary Artery Disease/preparing for a stent procedure

  1. What is coronary artery disease (CAD) and how is it treated?
  2. Do treatment considerations differ between women and men?
  3. What makes a patient a good candidate for coronary stenting?
  4. What are the different stents and procedures available, and what are the benefits and risks of each?


As with any medical procedure, there are risks that should be discussed with your physician as some are serious in nature.  For more information, please visit http://www.bostonscientific.com/SYNERGYPatient to learn more about heart health and the SYNERGY Stent.