Teaching adaptive dance class helping heart attack survivor heal in Clinton Township

Survivor hopes to raise awareness about SCAD

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. - At the Ann Parsley School of Dance in Clinton Township, Karen Glugla helps children live out their dreams of learning to dance.

Glugla is a busy mother of four, and for the past 17 years, an occupational therapist at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

Jessica Hetzel, 17, is one of her dancers.

"Even though most of us have physical disabilities, it doesn't stop us from being normal people and living our normal lives," Hetzel said.

It's that attitude that inspired Glugla to start the adaptive dance class after one of her young patients pretended to tap dance for her.

"She said, 'Listen to my tap shoes,' and she held her walker and she had gym shoes on, but she made these noises with her gym shoes, and of course I welled up in tears and I listened, and I looked at her mom and she said, 'Yes, Addy wants to dance,'" Glugla said. "I knew my mission was to have this happen and run a dance class for anyone that would want to join, no matter what their special abilities were."

But the benefits go both ways. The class has helped Glugla, too, as she struggled through her own health challenges.

"My health took a sudden change in 2014 when I had suffered a heart attack," Glugla said. "I kinda collapsed, really, in my living room with my daughters. It was all the classic signs of a heart-attack. My neck, my jaw, chest pain, pressure in my chest, then I started sweating."

She was just 41 and in good shape.

"That never really made sense to me, but I just went on with my life and took the medicines that they recommended," Glugla said.

In 2018, it happened again.

"I was just asking God to 'let me live, please let me live, please let me live,'" Glugla said.

She survived, and this time, doctors discovered she had SCAD, a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. It's a sudden tear in the wall of the artery that can cause a heart attack.

The condition is rare, but Glugla learned it's more common in younger women who are otherwise healthy and in women who have recently given birth.

"The thing that you'd notice first is EKG changes," said Dr. Kenton Zehr, executive director of the Detroit Medical Center Heart Hospital. "But often, this age group is not the kind of people you're looking for a sudden coronary syndrome, so you have to be aware. Bigger centers like ours tend to be more aware of these syndromes, and we have people on staff that would be quicker to recognize that in their differential than other institutions."

Zehr said Glugla did the right thing in getting help fast.

"I think the main thing to get out is acute coronary syndromes are life-threatening. By far, (they are most commonly) caused by atherosclerotic disease and hypertension, high blood pressure," Zehr said. "But anybody with chest pain should seek help immediately."

Glugla is grateful to be alive and wants to see more awareness of SCAD among doctors and the public.

"I'm just a little frustrated with knowing how many don't know because you could be helping save a young woman's life who may have just had a baby," Glugla said. "I have four children who I want to see grow up."

Like her students, she's not letting her challenges stop her.

"We all have challenges, and that's my hidden disability, my special ability. But it helps me heal, it helps my heart heal to help these other kids shine," Glugla said. "I can walk, I can talk and still do my work. I can still come here and some of these children will never be able to do any of those things. So it's a constant perspective."

Glugla's own daughters participate in the class, Carley as the instructor and Avery as a volunteer.

"It just brings me so much joy to come here every week and work with them and do something that I love," Carley said.

"They should be able to dance like we can," Avery said.

When the students take the stage at their recital this June, Karen Glugla's heart will beat a little faster, but for all the right reasons.

"They teach me more than I teach them," Glugla said. "Don't give up. Try your hardest. Smile."

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