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Lori Anne Parker, Tennessee

by Sarah U. on Friday, September 14, 2012

Lori Anne appeared to be the very picture of health. But after having two sudden heart attacks only one week apart - at the age of 38 – she learned that she had a rare heart condition, one that is usually only diagnosed in autopsies.

Statistics show that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S., taking one in three women, or more than 450,000 women per year. It kills more women than the next five causes of death combined, including all forms of cancer. But Lori Anne did not think she could become a statistic herself. An artist working on her doctoral dissertation, she was burning the candle at both ends with another job and an adjunct professorship, sleeping only four hours a night when fate interrupted her plans.

“I was driving home at night when I had pain that went from my fingers up my chest,” Lori Anne recalled. “When I got home, I ended up vomiting.”

She chalked it up to a case of the flu and went to bed, but the next day, she noticed that her heart was fluttering and decided to search the Internet for heart disease symptoms in women. She saw online that all of the symptoms she had experienced were symptoms of a heart attack. But even then, she discounted the possibility. It wasn’t likely. She was a woman in excellent physical condition, worked out regularly, watched her diet, did not eat red meat, and had no family history. So despite the matching list of symptoms in front of her on the screen, Lori Anne didn’t see a doctor.

“When my symptoms started again a few days later, I knew immediately ‘I am having a heart attack.’ I knew something was desperately wrong.”

Lori Anne went to the hospital where she was diagnosed with coronary artery dissections, meaning two of the main arteries to her heart were actually splitting apart. Doctors performed an emergency triple bypass surgery. Afterward, Lori Anne learned how lucky she was to survive.

“My condition is usually only diagnosed post-mortem. Finding out that so many people don’t survive my condition was intense. I had never had anything happen before that was so damaging to my body or mind. I’d never been so scared in my life. This was the last thing I would ever have expected to happen to me! As a woman, I had worried about *** cancer, but I never worried about my heart.”

She spent the next year recovering and getting stronger, in both body and mind, and became determined to share her hard-earned knowledge. Her message? It can happen to anyone – but people can make everyday choices that can save their lives and make them better afterward. She’s living proof.

"First, I want women to know what the symptoms are and to take them seriously, even if they think they are most unlikely to have an attack.

"Second, if you have already had an attack or major heart surgery, know that the body is resilient and you CAN get strong again. We can have a lot of control over our bodies and our quality of life by the choices we make.

“The year was so hard, with the two heart attacks and a triple bypass last summer. To have this [serve as Go Red for Women’s spokeswoman from 2010-11] come out of all that, it has special meaning to me. When I was lying in the hospital bed in the cardiac ward, I was thinking of all the other people in the ward and how alone and scared they must feel, and I was already wishing I could find a way to help them through their fears once I got out.”