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Denise Sullivan's Story
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Family Matters: Denise Sullivan's Story

All that Denise, 49, could think about before she went to the hospital for open heart surgery was that she was the same age as her daughter, Chelsea when she lost her dad to heart disease.  Already on cholesterol-lowering medication, Chelsea, 17, is 10 times more at-risk for heart disease because of her family history. Read this amazing story of resilience in the face of high risk and learn how these women cope with the genetic cards they have been dealt. 

Denise’s father, left, Denise, brother Allen who had his first heart attack at 29 and her 
older sister Diana, the only family member without genetic heart disease, right.

WomenHeart Champion Denise Sullivan learned the hard way just two years ago with a diagnosis of heart disease that you can’t put "life” off. So she now has a bucket list of things she always wanted to do. Two things have come off the list already -- entering and winning first place in the Maine State Quilt Show and driving at 135 mph on a NASCAR speedway. 

One item on Denise’s bucket list was to enter a quilt in the Maine State Quilt Show. 
She did and she won first place! She stands proudly with daughter Chelsea.

Denise says doing 20 laps at 120 mph in a NASCAR was "a rush!”  Check another one off the bucket list!

Denise’s family history of heart disease is startling — her grandmother, father, two uncles, an aunt, and two brothers, to name a few. Of Denise’s three children, two have elevated lipids and have inherited the heart disease that runs through the family’s genes. Denise is especially fearful for her daughter Chelsea. "She has not been as compliant as I would like,” says Denise, "but I believe that our ongoing talks about the options and choices she has will make a difference in her longevity.” Studies show that family history of heart disease dramatically increases a person’s risk for developing heart disease, and doctors can begin early preventative treatments with statin drugs when they are aware. 

Denise’s own path to longevity has everything to do with her tenacity and willingness to challenge her doctors, when necessary. When she found out from her eldest daughter that she was going to become a grandmother, Denise decided it was time to have a serious talk with her doctor about shortness of breath, which soon turned into a diagnosis of coronary artery disease. Over the next year, she underwent open heart surgery, had a heart attack, and several other heart procedures, including angioplasty and a stent. And she welcomed her beautiful grandson, Wyatt, who Denise refers to as "the guy who saved my life.”

Grandson Wyatt

After Denise’s diagnosis, she turned to WomenHeart and attended the 2008 Science & Leadership Symposium at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where she learned more about her own heart disease and how to effectively use her story to raise public awareness back in her community. Daughter Chelsea is now becoming as active as her mom, working on a heart pillows project for her Girl Scout Gold Award and joining Denise at speaking engagements. "I believe sometimes that his cardiac journey—which really began for me with my father’s death—is part of my life’s mission,” said Denise.  "I can truly relate to what my children are going through because I was 16 when my dad passed away, and I feel that I have a calling to spread the word about heart disease. I know that it makes a difference. People are alive today and have made changes to their lifestyle because of my story.”

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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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WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease is a founding partner of The Heart Truth Red Dress campaign. The Heart Truth and Red Dress are trademarks of HHS.