Faces of Heart Disease: Four Inspiring Rochester Women “Go Red”

In combination with stroke, heart disease is Still the number-one killer of women in the U.S. Its victims are our mothers, sisters, neighbors and friends. But heart disease is no match for the power of women’s voices and the mission of the American Heart Association. When Lori Arndorfer, Susan Ydstie, Elizabeth McGeeney and Diane Mitchell take the stage at Rochester’s annual Go Red For Women® luncheon on February 11, 2016, a community of women will hear four inspiring stories of survivorship and resiliency. 

Lori Arndorfer

Lori’s busy lifestyle was unexpectedly halted last summer when nagging back pain landed her in the ER. Tests revealed that the 47-year-old teacher, wife and mother of teenage boys had two coronary blockages—one at 90 percent and the other at 75 percent. She immediately underwent a stent procedure and since recovery has undertaken a new regime of healthy eating and exercise. “I’ve got a second chance to get it right,” says Lori, “and I won’t take life for granted.” 

Diane Mitchell

Diane was getting ready to attend an event with her daughter when she felt a sudden, extreme pressure in the middle of her chest, followed by violent vomiting. Her husband dismissed it as heartburn and she continued with her normal activities. When she experienced the same symptoms four days later, on her 56th birthday, she asked to be taken to the ER. She knew she had symptoms of a heart attack. “Women should never ignore their intuition,” says Diane. “I’m grateful that I received a second warning and am here to share my story.” 

Susan Ydstie 

Susan was just 5 years old when doctors diagnosed her with bicuspid aortic valve disease—a congenital heart defect in which the valve has two leaflets instead of three. Though her heart had to work harder than typical, Susan enjoyed a mostly active and asymptomatic lifestyle until her mid-20s, when tests confirmed her valve had reached the end of its life. At age 27, she underwent open-heart surgery to receive a porcine replacement valve. For Susan and her husband, Isaac—both teachers—heart disease has not deterred their vision for life together, including bicycle rides, trips to Germany and plans to start a family later this year. 

Elizabeth McGeeney

Last spring, at 47 years old, Elizabeth found herself feeling increasingly tired and fatigued. Though she had a strong family history of heart disease, the busy wife, mother of two and volunteer did not want to believe her time for cardiac intervention had come. Elizabeth had a triple bypass surgery that was initially deemed successful but went on to suffer a stroke and continued to experience shortness of breath. Her heart disease was so aggressive that doctors determined she needed a second procedure for stent placement. Recovery continues today, and though life has been different for Elizabeth, she is working to regain energy, prioritize exercise and reduce stress. “It wasn’t easy at first,” she says, “but my family has really helped pick up the slack for me, and I’m feeling better and stronger each day.”

Go Red For Women Luncheon 

“Lori, Susan, Elizabeth and Diane are helping to make a difference for women everywhere,” says Anne Wolter, a clinical exercise physiologist in Mayo Clinic Cardiovascular Health Clinic where the women each underwent cardiac rehabilitation. “This is a great opportunity for them, for us [real women] to pave the way for better care, education and prevention.” 

 “The Rochester Go Red Luncheon celebrates the energy, passion and power we have to fight heart disease in women,” says Sara Clausen, regional director, American Heart Association.  “We invite women everywhere to take part in this extraordinary event.” 

To learn more about these four survivors and ways you can join the movement, attend the Rochester Go Red for Women Luncheon February 11, 2016. For tickets and more information visit rochestergoredforwomen.org.

Laurie Simon is a freelance writer living in Rochester, Minnesota.