Patricia Lorence has known for most of her life that she had a heart condition. Doctors found a heart murmur — known as mitral valve prolapse — when she was a child.
“I was diagnosed very young,” says Lorence. “[Doctors] mentioned it to my mother, that the valve was more pronounced. But I went on to do gymnastics and all sorts of sports activities, and I pretty much forgot about it until I’d go to the doctor and they’d remind me.”
Despite the heart problem, Lorence led a healthful lifestyle. A self-described go-getter, she exercised regularly and ate healthy foods. “I sort of thought it would go away,” she says. “I always ate healthy anyway.”
Lorence concentrated on a diet of fruits, vegetables, fish, grains and nuts, while also working out on the treadmill and lifting weights. But in 2006, the prolapse caught up with her as she approached middle age. She underwent valve replacement surgery in July 2006.
“Earlier in that year I was having a chronic cough, and it didn’t go away,” she recalls. “I thought I’d have it when I’m 70, but I guess it happened a little sooner.”
At first Lorence ignored her symptoms — the cough and chronic sweating. When she went through with the surgery the doctors found she had an infection, in addition to the faulty valve. “Much to everyone’s surprise, when I had the surgery they thought they were going to repair [the valve] but they had to replace it.”
The experience taught Lorence a valuable lesson: to be in tune with what your body tells you. “Listen to the signs,” she advises. “If something doesn’t feel right, go to the doctor and have it checked.”
Lorence’s life-long habits made the surgery and her recovery smooth. She was back to work in five weeks. It would have been four weeks, but she had an allergic reaction to one of her medications.
“Because of exercise and the way I eat I was able to get back to work pretty quickly,” she says. “So it’s so important to have a healthy lifestyle.”
Lorence continues to practice heart-healthy habits. She walks regularly, and she plans to resume skiing this winter.