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Heart Patient, Lou Ann Topping

Feb 5, 2024, 10:05 AM by Good Health


Lou Ann Topping

In October 2016, while Lou Ann Topping was visiting Washington State to celebrate her granddaughter’s first birthday, she awoke to an ache in her left arm. She thought maybe the pain stemmed from an active day at the Portland Zoo the day before, but it didn’t make sense why the aching would be on one side.  As the morning wore on, the pain got worse, creeping up into her neck and shoulder. Lou Ann usually carries aspirin to chew in case of a heart emergency because of her family history of cardiac issues, but this time, she did not have any with her.  When the pain became unbearable, Lou Ann’s daughter and son-in-law called 9-1-1. The first responders immediately hooked her up to an EKG. A doctor at the hospital read the results and confirmed a massive heart attack was underway. Once a dose of nitroglycerin spray relieved the pressure, they departed quickly for the hospital. “I was definitely scared,” shares Lou Ann. “When the firefighters opened the doors of the ambulance, a big group of people was there waiting. I got rushed into a room full of doctors, nurses and machines.” The medical team began a coronary angioplasty, to open the blocked artery in her heart and to place a stent inside to improve the flow of blood and oxygen. “The chief cardiologist came to my room in the ICU afterwards, and told us that if the paramedics had come later, I might not be here,” Lou Ann recalls.  

After two weeks at her daughter’s home, Lou Ann felt strong enough to return to Santa Barbara. Her hospital cardiologist insisted she have a local heart specialist, and a friend referred her to Sansum Clinic’s Taylor Holve, M.D..  Before her first appointment, Lou Ann wondered what lifestyle adjustments she’d have to make, and how those might affect her job as office manager of a busy local dental practice and cooking for her husband. Lou Ann’s initial meeting with Dr. Holve put her at ease.  “He made me feel comfortable to talk openly with him.  He paid close attention, asked a lot of questions and was really encouraging,” she remembers.  In their monthly appointments during her recuperation, Dr. Holve reviewed the plan to reduce her risk of having another heart attack and improve her overall heart health. She needed help addressing her high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and her medications. They’d talk about her concerted efforts to eat less red meat, less fruit and less of the sweets she enjoyed baking for her husband. Lou Ann learned that a diet low in sugar, sodium and saturated fats, and one rich in fiber and plant foods, could substantially lower her risk of further heart disease. “I am truly inspired by Lou Ann, and the changes she made to her own lifestyle to improve her long term outcomes,” commented Dr. Holve. Lou Ann also appreciated how Dr. Holve connected regularly with Mark Juretic, M.D., her primary care physician, so she didn’t have to repeat all of the medical details about her care and keeping her diabetes in check.  Through MyChart, the doctors could quickly access notes from her visits, and her most recent lab work. “They truly worked well together, then and now, for my benefit, for my good health,” she adds.

During one visit with Dr. Holve, Lou Ann picked up a flyer about Sansum Clinic’s WomenHeart support group. These meetings connect women in the community who are at risk of, or are living with heart disease. The free gatherings are led by WomenHeart Champions, trained volunteers who facilitate, educate and come alongside women on their journey with heart disease. After diagnosis, many women experience feelings of isolation and depression. The WomenHeart leaders know that talking with someone who’s been there can aid the emotional recovery process. For Lou Ann, the knowledge she gained was key. The difference in heart attack symptoms between women and men was one of her most important discoveries. “I learned that women experience heart disease differently,” she explains.  “I listened to women share how they did not recognize many of the symptoms which signaled their heart attacks, and they thought they were linked with other medical problems. We have different bodies, and different symptoms than men.” 

According to the American Heart Association, symptoms women should be aware of include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, tightness, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach

  • Pressure or pain that moves to the neck, shoulders, back, jaw, or arms

  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, with or without chest discomfort

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, dizziness or nausea 

  • Unusual fatigue or weakness 

If women experience any of these signs, they should call 911 and get to a hospital right away. Even when the symptoms are subtle, the consequences can be fatal, especially if the person doesn’t get help right away.  “The latest research shows that recognizing and acting on heart attack symptoms is linked with faster treatment. Every minute counts in these situations,” reports Dr. Holve.  

Inspired by the education and counsel she got from her support group, Lou Ann decided to become a WomenHeart Champion herself. “I wanted to help women advocate for themselves,” she says. Following her 2017 training at Mayo Clinic, she dove into her new role, energized to assist and inform local patients who join the more than 60 million women in the United States living with some form of heart disease. 

WomenHeart Champions (left to right) Marsha Griggs, Janet Wolf, Evan McCabe, 
Lou Ann Topping, Olivia Rodriguez  

This February, Lou Ann visited members of Congress in Washington, DC on behalf of WomenHeart for the Patient Empowerment Summit and Advocacy Day to share the message that heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. They talked with legislators about federal bills which fund women’s heart disease research, increase representation of women in clinical trials, and increase women’s access to cardiac rehabilitation and overall health coverage and care. She toured the Capitol proudly wearing a special heart pin given to her by a heart surgery patient in Santa Maria. 

Lou Anne Topping at Capital

Lou Ann in Washington, DC

“That pin reminds me of how lucky I am. I got a second chance at life,” she shares.  Lou Ann’s steadfast commitment to helping other patients avoid heart disease and best manage its repercussions is something greatly valued by Dr. Holve. “She truly turned her negative situation of a heart attack into a significant benefit for those around her,” said Dr. Holve. “We greatly appreciate the contribution that Lou Ann and WomenHeart make to this community.”  

To learn more about Sansum Clinic’s WomenHeart support group, click here.

Taylor Holve, MD
Taylor Holve, M.D., Cardiology >

Dr. Juretic

Mark Juretic, M.D., Internal Medicine >