Tracia Davis spent three days in the hospital this spring after suddenly collapsing in the hallway of her Euless apartment. After a battery of tests, doctors released the 37-year-old mother, uncertain what had caused her to lose consciousness.
Two weeks later, Davis collapsed again while folding laundry in her bedroom. This time, her heart stopped beating.
Davis, fortunately, was resuscitated, but she spent more than a week in a coma at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. It was there that doctors made a shocking discovery. Davis had a rare congenital heart defect that should have killed her before she reached her first birthday.
“I was taking pictures of her heart and I couldn’t find her left coronary artery,” cardiologist Farhan Ali said. “I had never seen a patient like this before. I had only read about it in textbooks because it’s very rare to see it in person. We knew at that point we had a very, very interesting case.”
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Davis’s defect is known as anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery, or ALCAPA. This means that her left coronary artery was pulling blood out of the heart instead of pumping oxygenated blood to her heart. To compensate, her right coronary artery had grown tiny branches that supplied the left side of her heart with a small amount of oxygenated blood, but not as much as it needed, Ali said.
“The left coronary artery supplies the majority of the muscle of the heart. Without that artery, it is typically not feasible to live very long,” Ali said. “About 90 percent of the patients born with this die within the first couple months of life. The remaining 10 percent of patients will have problems in early adulthood.”
Doctors also discovered significant scar tissue that led them to believe Davis had suffered a heart attack as an infant. Cardiothoracic surgeon William Anderson, who had also never seen a patient like Davis before, created a new two-artery system to regulate blood flow to her heart during surgery in May.
Though still weak, Davis is now back at home, caring for her 11-year-old son Jordaan.
“They called me a miracle woman,” Davis said.
Her mother, Betty Davis, said she never knew about her daughter’s heart condition or the heart attack she had apparently suffered as a baby. She said that Davis, her only child, cried a lot as an infant but that she believed it was colic.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it,” Betty Davis said. “They didn’t understand how she lived to be 37 years old.”
Ali called Davis’ case both baffling and amazing — from waking up from the coma without brain damage to surviving so long with the undiagnosed heart defect.
“Mrs. Davis is a very inspirational story,” Ali said. “Her heart function has normalized. She is not having any more episodes of passing out. Her prognosis is good.”
Davis said she looks forward to being healthy enough again to return to her role as a volunteer caregiver at her church nursery.
“I’m feeling much better,” Davis said. “Hopefully by next year I’ll be well and able to do what I want to do.”