Young Alberta runner raising awareness about dangers of heart disease

Saige Godberson never expected to be living with a life-long heart condition.

The 28-year-old is a marathon runner, snowboarder, Pilates and barre instructor and registered nurse, who loves to be outdoors and active.

“I was out running early in 2023,” she said. “I started getting symptoms of chest pain, chest tightening and shortness of breath.”

Because she didn’t have the risk factors associated with a heart condition, she waited a few days before seeking medical attention. When she went to urgent care with severe chest pain, she said after initial testing, medical staff sent her home.

“I didn’t have any of the risk factors. I didn’t fit their picture of who has cardiac disease,” she said.

“It was: ‘Come back to (emergency) if you’re still in chest pain,’ but leaving emerg, I was still in chest pain.”

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Godberson sought out answers for months. Doctors came up with everything from GI upset, stress, to a pinched nerve and anxiety.

“The symptoms continued to worsen to the point that almost 80 per cent of my day I would say I was in this excruciating chest pain,” she said.

“It’s interesting the psychological impact. You start to question yourself: ‘Is this in my head? Am I making this up?’”

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She kept advocating for answers. Her mom had spent 10 years in the same battle, looking for her own answers to her heart issues.

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Eight months after that first trip to urgent care, she was referred to Dr. Kevin Bainey at the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.

“She didn’t have any blockages,” Dr. Bainey told Global News. “So many times in those patients it’s just said: ‘OK, well there’s nothing there, and you’re fine,’ and their symptoms are ignored.”

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But Dr. Bainey wanted to look further. The Mazankowski is the only facility in Alberta to offer CoroFlow, a procedure to take a closer look at the smallest parts of the heart.

“We are able to decipher the causes of chest pain in patients with normal heart arteries,” he said.

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Dr. Bainey said it helps to mostly diagnose three conditions: microvascular dysfunction, microvascular coronary artery spasm and epicardial coronary invasive spasm.

This type of testing wasn’t available before and without it, Bainey said patients were left without answers, often put on anti-anxiety medication to cope.

Now, he said, they are able to offer treatment of their symptoms and a better quality of life.

“It’s a huge relief and a big benefit for us to be able to offer that for all Alberta patients.”

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Godberson is now raising awareness about heart disease, especially in young women.

“When you picture someone with heart disease, you see typically a male and typically an older individual,” she said, proving that that isn’t always the case.

Dr. Bainey agrees, encouraging anyone with exertional chest pain, shortness of breath, tightness, or squeezing and heaviness on the chest to get checked out.

“If you’re in your 20s, 30s or 40s and are having these symptoms, particularly if you are female, they are real and you need to get them investigated.”

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