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Healing After Heart Disease: How One Woman is Giving Back

Posted By Talia Schmidt, Wednesday, April 11, 2018
WomenHeart offers social and emotional support services in all shapes and sizes. We try to make it as simple as possible to connect you with other women who get it.
One of the ways we do this is through our Virtual Support Network—a peer-led group that meets online once a month to offer support and guidance to women with heart disease. It’s easy to connect online:
The support forums are led by WomenHeart Champions—women like you—busy, successful women who live in small towns and big cities, balancing work and family, hoping to find others who have lived through their heart disease experiences. Research and recent news indicates that women who experience close friendships better protect themselves from high blood pressure, worsening of heart disease, and repeat heart attacks.
WomenHeart Champion Ree Laughlin understands the power of social and emotional support to help combat social isolation. By leading these groups together with her partner in crime, Pam Lessley, they can hear and see the impact of sharing stories, educational resources, and support.


Healing After Heart Disease: How One Woman is Giving Back 

Meet Ree Laughlin, a 9th generation Texan who’s retired in Boerne—about 45 miles North of San Antonio—joined WomenHeart in 2011, a year after she had open heart surgery. She had a difficult recovery period, in which she says the Virtual Support Network would have been a godsend. Diagnosed in her 30s with an aortic valve stenosis, Ree visited the cardiologist every few months. She says she was always healthy and monitored it closely.

But in 2010, coming home from a family vacation in Oregon, Ree became uncommonly winded running between gates at the airport. “It’s a 55-minute flight from Dallas back home, and it took me the duration of that to catch my breath,” Ree says. “I’ve learned how to slow my breath so people don’t realize I’m totally out of breath. The next night, I was in the hospital.” 


The side effects no one talks about

After surgery and recovery, Ree says she was in a different world. With a 10-inch scar down her chest, she didn’t recognize herself anymore.

She recalls one commonly-overlooked experience she experienced as a woman: “They gave me a three-ring binder when I was released from the hospital, but it didn’t include how to find a bra without any underwire that would rub or pinch my scar.”

She found a local psychologist who was able to help. The support she received from other women helped the most. “It was all those post-surgery things where WomenHeart really helped a lot,” Ree says. “Hearing all those other stories helped so much.”


The gift of giving back

She’s giving back now by leading virtual support networks once a month to women whose situation she is all too familiar with. “It’s such a gift to have this opportunity,” says Ree. “If that had been me, home from the hospital, confused and having panic attacks, I really could have used it.” Ree meets informally with other heart disease survivors and continues to serve as a WomenHeart Champion. “I don’t want to be defined by my heart disease. I see it as an opportunity to help others.”


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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) patient advocacy organization with thousands of members nationwide, including women heart patients and their families, health care providers, advocates and consumers committed to helping women live longer, healthier lives. WomenHeart supports, educates and advocates on behalf of the nearly 48 million American women living with or at risk of heart disease. Our programs are made possible by donations, grants and corporate partnerships.

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