Contact: Nicole Napoli, email@example.com, 202-375-6523WASHINGTON (Feb. 14, 2014) — A 47-year-old, 120-pound daily exerciser isn’t the typical face of heart disease, but in August 2007, Lori Cooper was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. When the mother of three young children went to the hospital after coming home from work lightheaded, sweating, coughing and her heart racing, the doctor told her she got there just in time because she had “less than 24 hours left.”
“This was the disease that killed my father and now it was about to kill me,” Cooper said.
Since that day Cooper has completely altered her lifestyle. She had always walked for exercise, but now, in addition, she’s reduced her salt intake, completely cut caffeine out of her diet, takes daily medications and sees both her primary care doctor and cardiologist for annual physicals.
Cooper, who is from Hudson, Ill., is being recognized by the American College of Cardiology’s “I am CardioSmart” contest for her inspiring lifestyle shift after heart failure. Cooper is one of five heart disease patients being recognized during Heart Month for living well with heart disease.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of women, but women don’t often recognize the symptoms or admit that they aren’t feeling well,” said CardioSmart Chief Medical Expert, JoAnne Foody, MD, FACC. “Women should not feel guilty putting their health first. It’s important to listen to your body, know your family history of heart disease and take the appropriate prevention steps to keep your heart in top shape.”
Cooper says looking back, the symptoms were “frantically waving red flags” at her, but she ignored them and blamed them on the summer heat and pre-menopausal symptoms. For weeks before being admitted to the hospital she had shortness of breath walking up stairs, her heart raced when she was standing still, she had gained weight and she had a white foamy cough.
“I was too busy at work and at home with three daughters to be sick—an excuse that too many women use,” Cooper said.
After her heart failure diagnosis, Cooper said she thought she had received a death sentence and was waiting to die.
“I couldn’t even think about planning anything for the future,” she said. “Vacations, my birthday, Christmas—I knew in my mind I wouldn’t be around.”
Cooper said her doctor noticed her depression forming immediately and helped her manage that side of her care—that was the turning point.
“One day it dawned on me,” Cooper said. “I could beat this. The fears that had scared me about dying were now the ones that were going to make me fight for my life again.”
Today, her heart function has improved to normal levels. When she was diagnosed her heart was pumping blood at about 20 percent of its capacity. Today is it at 50 percent, which her doctors have called normal.
Since her diagnosis, Cooper has hiked in national parks and recently traversed a zip line in the Great Smoky Mountains. She also volunteers at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., and with local heart disease awareness groups to educate others on heart disease.
“Heart failure is a chronic disease and there is no cure, but it is treatable,” she said. “You can live a long and rewarding life, and I am proof of that.”
CardioSmart is the patient education and support program developed by the American College of Cardiology. Its mission is to engage, inform and empower patients to better prepare them to participate in their own care. In 2013, CardioSmart established a contest to find individuals who were living well with specific heart disease conditions: high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, previous heart attack or coronary artery disease, and showcase their stories to inspire other patients.
David Wang of Boston was the overall winner, through voting on the CardioSmart Facebook page. Read his story on the CardioSmart website.
For more information on symptoms and treatments, visit www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Conditions/Heart-Failure.
The mission of the American College of Cardiology is to transform cardiovascular care and improve heart health. The College is a 43,000-member medical society comprised of physicians, surgeons, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and practice managers. The College is a leader in the formulation of health policy, standards and guidelines. The ACC provides professional education, operates national registries to measure and improve quality of care, disseminates cardiovascular research, and bestows credentials upon cardiovascular specialists who meet stringent qualifications. For more information, visit www.cardiosource.org/ACC.