Pictured (left to right), Laurie Robinson, named Main Line Health’s Queen of Hearts 2010, receives congratulations from 2009 Queen of Hearts Robyn Stephanou, and fellow 2010 finalists Michelle Getty and Lisa Gilbert.
It was a beautiful summer day, and Laurie Robinson’s family had made their annual trek to the Poconos Camel Beach Water Park. Laurie and her husband, Kevin, were enjoying the wave pool with their three grown sons — all over 6 feet — and the boys’ girlfriends, “throwing each other around.”
“We love the water park,” says Laurie. “We’re always the last family to leave. On this particular day, I was feeling really tired,” she recalls. “But I was intent on having a good time.” When she got doused with a huge bucket of water, says Laurie, “It literally took my breath away. I lay down on a lounge chair and went to sleep.”
The following day, Laurie headed to work — she is the Central Business Office Manager for Home Health, Hospice, Extended Care and Home Infusions for Main Line Health and Jefferson. She found herself out of breath all day. That night, she couldn’t stop coughing, and was having a lot of trouble breathing. At 2:00 am, she called her husband, who was working the overnight shift at the hospital where he’s employed. Perhaps it was her asthma acting up, but to be on the safe side, Laurie drove herself to the emergency room. Kevin met her there.
“After my initial exam, the clinicians came back in looking grave,” says Laurie. “They asked me, who is your cardiologist? My husband and I just looked at each other. I said, ‘I don’t have a cardiologist,’ to which they responded, ‘You mean no one ever told you that you have a bad heart?’”
Understand the Warning Signs
By Shelley Hickey, MSN, Clinical Nurse Educator, Main Line Health
“The symptoms that Laurie Robinson experienced — exhaustion and shortness of breath — are two classic signs for women that something is going on with their heart,” explains Shelley Hickey, MSN, Clinical Nurse Educator, Main Line Health.
The next thing Laurie knew, she was being moved out of the ER with a crash kit sitting on her gurney. They took her upstairs for a CAT scan. She was then transported to the ICU. An echocardiogram showed an ejection fracture — the measurement of how forcefully a heart can squeeze — of only 17. The average is 50 to 60. The medical staff was shocked that Laurie had spent the previous day at the water park, had worked that day, and had driven herself to the ER. They expected she would have arrived in an ambulance. “My poor little heart was barely moving,” says Laurie. She was in congestive heart failure.
The following morning, Laurie was in her hospital bed having breakfast. “I took one bite of my biscuit, and I hear the cardiologist yell from the hallway, spit it out! He runs in, and tells me to call my husband to come right away. He tells me my heart is enlarged, and that the next six hours will determine if I need to be on a heart transplant list. Suddenly, I’m in an ambulance, being transported to another facility for a cardiac catheterization. I was watching my husband, who is a rock, driving behind the ambulance. I could see the tears just streaming down his face.”
Preparing for the catheterization, Laurie was in and out of consciousness. “I only heard them say they would have to make an incision in my chest,” she remembers. Laurie, who had a breast reduction five months earlier, opened one eye to ask, “You’re not gonna mess with my boob job, are you?’” When they said no, she went back to sleep.
A few days later, her cardiologist implanted a defibrillator in Laurie’s chest. They determined that she had an infection at some point in the past — perhaps caused by one of her three previous bouts with pneumonia — that made its way into her heart and exacerbated over time. Laurie spent five weeks at home recuperating before beginning cardiac rehabilitation, and embarking on a journey that would completely change her life.
“At first, I thought, if I have to give up Starbuck’s Lattes and my Cokes, I should just die now,” recalls Laurie, with her trademark good humor. “It will be two years this July,” she says of the ordeal. “Then, I weighed 303 pounds. Now, I weigh 199!”
Don’t Let Life Get in the Way
By Judy Matusky, RD, LDN, Nutrition Program Specialist, Bryn Mawr Hospital and Paoli Hospital
When it comes to making healthy food choices, says Judy Matusky, RD, LDN, Nutrition Program Specialist, Bryn Mawr Hospital and Paoli Hospital, “Life gets in the way. We all have good intentions, and know generally what we should be eating. But we get derailed, and it’s hard to get back on track."
Laurie lost more than 100 pounds in just one year and four months. She attributes her success to learning how to read food labels and make much healthier choices, and working out regularly with her husband on the Wii Fitness System he bought her to strengthen her heart.
These days, Laurie — now age 55 — exercises three to four times a week, incorporating everything from the hula hoop to jogging. She wears a heart monitor on her wrist to ensure she does not go over her threshold. She eats at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, lots of yogurt and salads, and lean proteins — fish and chicken — in servings the size of a deck of cards. She says the hardest thing was making herself eat breakfast — something she didn’t do before. When she’s craving a Snicker’s Bar, she now eats just a piece of it.
Laurie’s most recent echocardiogram measured an ejection fracture of 50. “My cardiologist finally smiled,” says Laurie. “He said to me, you don’t know how sick you were, young lady.”
The day before Valentine’s Day, Laurie Robinson was named Main Line Health’s “Queen of Hearts” 2010. The program recognizes a woman in the community who has made heart health an integral part of her life, and serves as a role model for others. Laurie was crowned in a special ceremony before an audience of family, friends and supporters at the Franklin Institute. “The next day,” says Laurie, “I went to church wearing my tiara and my stole. I wanted everyone to ask me about it, so I could tell them all about taking care of their hearts.”
In fact, Laurie has become a tremendous advocate for heart health. In addition to making appearances at various events as the Main Line Health Queen of Hearts, she organized her own “Healthy Heart Day” at her church. And her women’s ministry group, Sistuh 2 Sistuh, regularly promotes women’s heart health — sharing educational materials and collecting heart-healthy recipes.
“If anyone is standing in front of me for five minutes, I say, do you know how healthy your heart is? I am determined to help people,” says Laurie. “I don’t want anyone else to find out the way I did. I’m one of lucky ones. I believe I was spared for a reason. I don’t sit on my laurels. I’m gonna get the message out. I’m gonna wear my tiara and my stole. My husband is so thrilled that I was named the Queen of Hearts — it has aided so much in my wellbeing, in my healing process. My reign may be over in a year, but I’m not stopping. They’re going to have to take that tiara right out of my hands!"
Making Changes to Avoid Heart Disease
Your heart is a vital organ that keeps your body functioning. Unfortunately, many people don't treat it that way. They may not realize that their daily habits and lifestyle can overwork and damage their heart. So, take care of your heart and yourself. Start by making the following lifestyle changes.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.