Benefactor channels grief into action by supporting SCAD research
Life was good for Bob and Judy Alico — he was enjoying retirement after a rewarding career as an elementary school teacher, and she was fulfilling her dream of running her own graphic design business out of the couple’s home office in Scottsdale, Arizona.
But one morning in January 2011, Bob was getting ready to meet friends to watch a football game when Judy told him she wasn’t feeling well. She started to feel a shooting pain down her right arm and her vision blurred. Judy was in so much pain she couldn’t speak. She told Bob she loved him, and then she lost consciousness.
At the hospital, doctors worked to identify the problem, but the damage done to Judy’s heart was irreversible. Within just a couple of days, Judy passed away at age 51, leaving her family shell-shocked and heartbroken.
“You never know how it feels until it happens,” Bob says. “I had to find out for myself what caused my daughter and me to lose the most important person in our lives out of nowhere.”
Seeking Answers at Mayo Clinic
Bob later learned that Judy had experienced spontaneous coronary artery dissection — or SCAD — which causes a tear in the heart arteries, slowing or blocking blood flow and resulting in a heart attack.
This unpredictable, poorly understood condition is the No. 1 cause of heart attacks among women under the age of 50 and among those who are pregnant or who recently gave birth. In addition to heart attacks, it can cause sudden death.
Bob, who’d never heard of SCAD, wanted answers — why did this happen to Judy, who was active and healthy with no risk factors for heart disease? So, he channeled his grief into action. He discovered the newly formed SCAD Research Program at Mayo Clinic, led by cardiologist Sharonne N. Hayes, M.D., one of the world’s leading SCAD experts. The international SCAD Research Program launched in 2010 in response to data collection and interest initiated by women who had survived a SCAD and had connected via social networking.
Bob met with Dr. Hayes as soon as possible. He learned that the medical community was still working to determine what causes SCAD.
“He was devastated, but incredibly motivated,” Dr. Hayes recalls about that first meeting. “He repeatedly emphasized that his goal was to raise funds for research.”
Fueling Life-Changing Research
Six months after Judy’s death, Bob formed SCAD Research, Inc., a nonprofit run entirely by volunteers that’s dedicated to raising awareness, education and funding for Mayo Clinic and other organizations to study the condition.
Over the last decade, the organization has hosted SCADaddle for Research 5K events across the country that draw hundreds of attendees and have raised more than $1.3 million for SCAD research. SCAD Research, Inc. has designated the third full week in February, Heart Month, as SCAD Heart Attack Awareness Week. Bob and his team also run an online support group on Facebook called SCAD Angels for people who have lost a family member to SCAD.
One of the ways Bob says SCAD Research, Inc. has been impactful is through the flyers it created in partnership with experts like Dr. Hayes to share common signs of SCAD with paramedics and other medical providers.
“While someone might be exhibiting heart attack symptoms, it’s often mistaken for an anxiety attack because they are young and healthy,” Bob says. “That wastes time. Time is critical.”
Changing the Face of SCAD
Mayo Clinic recognizes Bob and SCAD Research, Inc. as Principal Benefactors. Thanks in part to their philanthropy, Dr. Hayes and her colleagues have increased understanding of the condition, developed ways to better detect and diagnose it on a coronary angiogram, and built awareness among health care providers, which will result in more survivors.
Benefactors have also made it possible for Mayo Clinic to build the world’s largest research registry that includes a robust DNA and plasma biobank from more than 1,000 patients who have experienced SCAD and nearly 500 of their parents. Genetic SCAD research is aimed at identifying inherited and spontaneous mutations that could cause the condition.
“Although compared to some other heart conditions research on SCAD is still in its infancy, we would not be anywhere close to where we are without the support of Bob Alico, Judy’s family and SCAD Research, Inc.,” Dr. Hayes says. “We are striving to find the underlying cause and best treatments, but ultimately how to predict and prevent SCAD. What fuels me and the rest of the research team are the patients, the advocates and the SCAD Angels. They are truly the wind beneath our wings.”
Hope and Healing
Bob describes Judy — his partner of 30 years — as confident, quiet and kind. A skilled graphic designer and a wonderful mother to their daughter.
“I never believed in soulmates, until I met her,” he says.
Bob says he will work to support SCAD research until people no longer die from it in honor of Judy, but also for his daughter, who will benefit from research findings that show whether it can be passed down in families.
“We have changed the face of SCAD, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Bob says. “I don’t want anybody to suffer the way we had to. I have hope in Mayo Clinic. If anybody’s going to be able to solve it, it’s Mayo.”