New information has surfaced regarding the sudden death of Yellowstone National Park spokeswoman Amy Bartlett.
We previously reported that Bartlett, 41, passed away suddenly just days after giving birth to a daughter. She had worked in Yellowstone for 15 years, assuming the role of public affairs assistant in 2012. She also met her husband, Jerry, in the Park. At the time of her death, the Gallatin County Coroner’s Office had release no cause of death.
Now, according to deputy Gallatin County coroner Bonnie Whitman, speaking to the Billings Gazette, an autopsy conducted in Missoula has identified the cause of Bartlett’s sudden passing: a rare heart condition known as spontaneous coronary artery dissection (or SCAD).
First discovered in 1931, the condition affects young pregnant women or women who have just given birth, according to Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic who researches SCAD. According to Hayes, it was thought to be relatively rare, but new research reveals the condition is more pervasive than previously thought. From the Gazette:
It’s only been in the last 15 years that the medical community has become more aware of heart disease in women, Hays said. Until the launch of the Go Red for Women program, started by the American Heart Association in 2004, she said “women were literally be ignored and told it was in their head” when they complained of classic heart attack symptoms like chest pressure, a cold sweat and arm pain. Now it’s known that cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke are the cause of death for about one out of every three women in the United States, according to the AHA.
Within the scope of heart disease, though, spontaneous coronary artery dissection is a “rare emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the blood vessels in the heart,” according to the Mayo Clinic’s website. Since women who are pregnant or have recently given birth typically don’t feel well anyway, it’s easy for the mothers to dismiss or ignore the symptoms of a heart attack, Hays said.
Although the cause of SCAD is unknown, researchers believe a combination of factors may lead to the condition, including: “blood vessel changes, sex hormone changes, blood volume changes and other changes in women related to pregnancy or menopause,” according to the SCAD Research website. “In both men and women, extreme exertion and extreme stress appear to play a role.”
“What we’ve also found is that most of these people have some underlying blood vessel abnormality,” Hays said. “They may have weak blood vessels to start with.”
Warning signs of a SCAD attack include chest pain, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, dizziness.
According to Whitman, Bartlett’s case file has been submitted to the Mayo Clinic for use in their SCAD research program. “We hope there will be more information gained through the study,” Whitman told the Gazette. “There’s a lot to be learned.”
In the aftermath of Bartlett’s passing, grief and condolences across the greater Yellowstone area poured out, with friends and colleagues praising Bartlett for her love of the Park and dedication to informing visitors of goings-on in and around Yellowstone.
In addition, a GoFundme established for the Bartlett family saw $29,800 raised by nearly 400 donors. Another fund through the Gardiner First Interstate Bank saw donations “from people around the U.S.” according to the Gazette.