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Claudia’s Story

Claudia’s Story: Heart Disease

Claudia spent much of her career traveling the globe as a marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company. She became a single mother after adopting an orphan from Romania in 1990. With a Harvard MBA and multiple other degrees, Claudia left her high-powered job to become a librarian at her daughter’s school to spend more time with her. Many years later, following a health scare involving her heart, Claudia’s lifelong love of learning led her to volunteer to educate, support and create awareness around women’s heart conditions.

Claudia was well aware of heart conditions as her brother had one. She had stress tests and echocardiograms done regularly and went to her doctor once a year. Claudia was taking medication to control her cholesterol levels and working on managing her weight. Periodically, she would get what she describes as an “electrical shock” in her legs and didn’t know if it was a muscle cramp or something else. She also experienced episodes where her heart would race and on one occasion it took over two hours to stop.

She offhandedly mentioned these symptoms at her annual doctor visit. “I told her that when I did strenuous exercise, my upper jaw felt tight and I remarked about the heart racing incident. My doctor scheduled a stress echocardiogram and an exercise stress test immediately, and I failed the heck out of them! When I mentioned my tight jaw, they stopped the test right away. I was told I needed to see a cardiologist. An angiogram revealed two blockages in my coronary arteries, and shortly afterward, stents were inserted.”

After her procedure, Claudia felt well physically, but didn’t know how to keep her heart healthy or what to do to care for herself better. She did a lot of research and found the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at El Camino Hospital where she went to hour-long classes three times a week for 12 weeks.

“The people at El Camino Hospital could not have been kinder. I looked forward to going every time. I worked with a personal trainer and wonderful nurses who greeted me and taught me how to manage my medications and cared about how I was feeling. We did Laughter Yoga for stress reduction, and I took a course with a dietitian,” explains Claudia. “I got all this great information and learned what my heart rate should be, and what was good for my heart. It was empowering, and if this program didn’t exist, I don’t know where I would be right now. I feel they literally saved my life.”

When she completed her 12 weeks of cardiac rehabilitation, the hospital provided her with a free three-month membership to the El Camino YMCA to continue her exercise regime. She also took advantage of El Camino Hospital’s heart-healthy lectures and support groups. Claudia joined the WomenHeart Support Group that meets the first Monday of every month at the Cardiac & Pulmonary Wellness Center at El Camino Hospital. The support group is led by women with heart disease and is open to all women in the community living with or at risk for heart disease. She learned nearly every woman had a story about symptoms being dismissed or misdiagnosed, and she wondered why women were not being heard. She also learned that heart disease symptoms differ in men and women.

Knowing the value of the information she learned, Claudia wanted to share it with others and has committed to becoming a WomenHeart Champion for El Camino Hospital. She hopes to attend training for this new role and then speak at events and volunteer to further El Camino Hospital’s education and awareness efforts around women’s heart health – the very efforts that helped her when she so needed it.