Susan Lisi’s journey with heart disease began long before her cardiac episode. When she was just 27-years-old, Susan lost her father, mother, grandmother and grandfather to various types of heart disease – all within 10 months. The following year, she went to a doctor and found that her cholesterol was extremely high and she was diagnosed with familial hyperlipidemia – an inherited disorder that causes high cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides in the blood.
“It was a time when there was no internet and no easy access to education,” says Susan. “I just had to talk to different doctors and didn’t know anyone else to talk to. I felt very alone living with this health threat and often felt like a time bomb waiting to explode.”
At 75, Susan was volunteering at a homeless shelter when she started feeling a tremendous amount of pressure in her neck and her shoulders, and was having trouble breathing. She sat down and broke out in a sweat and had dry heaves.
“I knew something was wrong, but I reacted in the absolutely wrong way,” says Susan. “I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. Instead of calling 911, I asked my husband to take me home and I didn’t tell him what was going on until we got home. I told him I thought I was having a heart attack, needed an aspirin, and was going to lay down. He didn’t listen when he said I didn’t need help.”
After her husband called 911, Susan was taken to a local hospital, where they found she had averted a heart attack. After that scare, she was referred to the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center for an angiogram – a diagnostic X-ray that captures pictures of blood vessels. The test revealed that Susan had blocked vessels and required a quadruple bypass.
After her surgery, Susan participated in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Long Beach Medical Center. Cardiac rehabilitation is a comprehensive program designed to help those with heart conditions resume, develop and/or maintain an active, heart-healthy lifestyle. The Cardiac Rehabilitation Program consists of nutrition counseling, medically supervised exercise and more.
“I felt very fragile after my surgery, but cardiac rehab was the best thing I could have done,” says Susan. “Little by little, the feeling of being so fragile went away and I felt the life force come back into my body. I got my strength back and my life back.”
During her time in cardiac rehabilitation, Susan was asked if she would be interested in volunteering at the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute’s Healing Hearts Program. As a volunteer, Susan met with cardiovascular patients in the hospital to offer them support. When Long Beach Medical Center decided to partner with WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, Susan was the first choice to be the liaison.
“I immediately said yes,” says Susan. “I went back to the Mayo Clinic for a 4-day training session with WomenHeart. I learned that it is essential for everyone, especially women, to get educated and to receive support. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, but it can often be misdiagnosed or the symptoms can often be ignored. What I’ve learned is that everyone should be educated on heart disease, so we can help ourselves and help other women.”
As a WomenHeart champion, she meets with patients in the hospital and in cardiac rehabilitation. Now, women can have access to all information about women and heart disease through WomenHeart’s “red bag of courage” from WomenHeart and shares her story. The bag is filled with education and information, as well as a knitted scarf. In addition to her in-hospital meetings, there are two monthly support groups for women who have had a cardiac diagnosis or who are at risk for heart disease.
“I am extremely grateful that Long Beach Medical Center is dedicated to helping women thrive who are living with or are at risk to developing heart disease,” says Susan. “WomenHeart has grown in three years to have four champions who all have heart disease and who are here to support and educate women in Long Beach.
The WomenHeart Long Beach Support Groups at Long Beach Medical Center are held on the third Wednesday of each month. There is one session from 2 - 4 p.m. and another from 6 - 8 p.m. (As of March 13, 2020, all support groups have been suspended as we observe a period of "social distancing.")
To learn your risk for heart disease, schedule a comprehensive cardiovascular screening with the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. Learn more by calling 800-MEMORIAL (636-6742).