Lanterns: Princess Leia, Heart Disease, and Me


Princess Leia, Heart Disease, and Me

As I heard about Carrie Fisher's (aka Princess Leia) heart attack on that London flight, my own heart dropped. I knew her chances of surviving were not stellar. Being a semi-heart expert myself, I knew that there were some things that were not in her favor. The number one thing was that SHE WAS A WOMAN.  Before the feminists lose their minds, you might want to know that the number one killer of women is not breast cancer, but it is actually heart disease. 

As someone who has been fighting this thing for four years now, the one thing I thought she had going for her was that she was taken to UCLA. After all, it was UCLA that saved my life.  If they could save my pathetic, little life, then surely they could save hers.  However, that wasn't the case.



As a little girl, I remember watching the Star Wars films, but I was much more a Darth Vader fan, than a Princess Leia one. I even dressed up as Darth Vader one year. Princess Leia seemed funny and smart, but Darth could kill you with his hand, which was very cool. I was a tomboy back then, so liking Princess Leia seemed "girly," though she really wasn't.  Of course, that gold metal bikini didn't help her make her less "girly" in my eyes.

I didn't feel like I had all that much in common in with Princess Leia, but last week that all changed. In a swift second, we had more in common than we ever would. I could almost hear her saying, Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope:





And while Obi-Wan Kenobi may have been Princess Leia's only hope, for Carrie and me, UCLA was ours.  I wished that she could have had Dr. Shamsa and Dr. Shemin as her primary cardiologists.  Dr. Shemin was my cardiothoracic and given my complicated history, was the only one who could have pulled off my surgery at all. From what I have been told, he is the best in the country when it comes to complicated heart surgeries. And I believe they are right; otherwise, I might have ended up like Carrie.  Dr. Shamsa is a cardiologist and deals with the day to day management of heart issues. (Of course, if you read my blog before you already knew that).

When she died yesterday, I was in shock. While I knew the factors such her age, sex, and the fact that first heart attack tends to be the most fatal, (If you are lucky to survive the first one, each one after that becomes increasing worse), and the fact she did drugs back in the day, only increased her chances of her not surviving this.

Knowing all of this, I was still holding UCLA up as being able to pull off a miracle- they did for me, after all. So when she died, it wasn't so much a shock from the heart attack killing her, but it was a shock that UCLA couldn't save her. It didn't make sense; I had a whole slew of medical conditions going in.  Why were they able to save me and not her?  It is like some kind of quasi- survivor's guilt

However, there may be one saving grace in all of this. Princess Leia, an American icon just became the face of heart disease for women. For years, there has a been a push to study heart disease for women because what happened to the Princess Carrie Fisher happens to so many ordinary women.  According to the CDC, heart disease kills 22.4 percent of women each year. 

More needs to be done.  

However, it is like that with all diseases; there is little attention until a celebrity is affected.  For example, Rock Hudson brought the plight of AIDS victims, Lou Gehrig considered himself the luckiest man in the world despite having ALS, and Parkinson's research didn't hit its high until Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali spoke about it, and the granddaddy of them all MS, was almost unknown until Jerry Lewis and his telethon. 

Her last remaining legacy may not be Princess Leia, but what she death does to further research for women's heart disease. Both the Princess and Carrie fought many great fights in their lives, however, let's make sure the one they couldn't win is used to help women all over the world win their greatest fight-  the fight for their heart.

If you want to know more about how you can help your heart go here:  Heart Disease for Women

More needs to be done to help women with heart disease. Women are often ignored or seen as hypochondriacs who are not taken seriously. I got lucky; I finally found someone who would listen to me after I was told I had "allergies" by another doctor. If there is a war on women, it is found in the healthcare industry and has nothing to do with birth control but with the heart. 


Written by Dena Leichnitz

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