image by: The Heart Truth
I am the luckiest actress on the planet - Susan Lucci
Soap operas: I’ve never been a fan. I remember back in the day when my friends and I would run home after school - we’d separate at the corner and they’d race off to watch the last 45 minutes of their favorite soaps. And I would impatiently wait for them to emerge from their houses so we could get on with being kids. Yet, once they finally came outside all they did was recap what they just watched. SO annoying!
I didn’t want to know what the story lines were about or, which characters had come back from the dead or, who had been abducted by aliens. But my friends...they could tell you everything about any soap opera. And they did. Seriously, everything I ever learned about soap operas I learned against my will. Ugh!
There is one, and only one, exception to my soap opera ignorance/disdain/jealousy. I know a little bit about Susan Lucci. I know of her because her character was infamous for having so many marriages and last names - all of which my friends could recite. I know that she was famous for being nominated for 100 million Emmys, and she never won any, I don’t think. And, I know that she’s had a very recent, soap opera worthy, brush with death.
A few months ago, Lucci was shopping in New York, when she felt a sudden tightening across her chest. She found a comfy chair and sat down for a few minutes until the pain subsided then continued with her shopping. A little later she felt the pain again which she describes as an “elephant sitting on her chest.” This time, the pain was worse, lasted longer, and radiated around her ribcage. Fearing she was having a heart attack she asked her friend to take her to the hospital.
At the hospital Lucci underwent an EKG which, surprisingly, came back normal. This EKG was then compared to a previous EKG which again appeared normal and indicated no changes. At this point, Lucci assumed the pain she was feeling was due to the stressful holiday season and that she would be released from the hospital since she was in “pristine health.” However, her Cardiologist thought otherwise and ordered a CT Coronary Artery Angiogram - which likely saved her life.
Cue the dramatic soap music...
What the CT results revealed was that Lucci had a 90% blockage in her left anterior descending artery. This artery is so vital that a full blockage typically results in a heart attack called the "widow maker." He also discovered a 75% blockage in a smaller artery.
Lucci underwent emergency surgery where doctors placed stents in her blocked arteries to keep the passageways open and to increase the blood flow back to her heart. The procedure was very successful. According to her surgeon, Dr. Richard Shlofmitz, “She has no damage. Her heart is pumping as good as when she was born.”
The interesting thing about Susan Lucci is that at 72 years old, the woman looks and acts like someone half her age. She’s thin, she exercises every day, she follows the heart healthy Mediterranean diet, her blood pressure is at the low end of normal and, every EKG she’s ever had “was great.” Not exactly the picture of a heart attack waiting to happen. Or was she?
As it turns out, Lucci did have one major risk factor after all — her father had arteriosclerosis and had a heart attack when he was in his 40’s. This one factor put Lucci in the high risk category. And had she gone home that afternoon or ignored her symptoms, that 90% blockage would quickly become a 100% blockage and at best, she would have suffered a major heart attack, at worst she would have dropped dead.
Obviously, preventing heart disease in the first place is ideal, but Lucci's story shows that sometimes it's inevitable. Therefore, getting screened and being proactive about your heart’s health is imperative.
Here are some of the warning signs that should NOT to be ignored:
- Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing/aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back
- Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness
Yes, many of these symptoms are vague and therefore easy to chalk up to other factors. However, knowing what to look for will allow you to act fast because your chances of surviving a heart attack are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly.
Susan Lucci is lucky to be alive. And the reason she is is because she LISTENED to her body and sought treatment immediately.
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