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Routine Heart Assessment Saved Her Life

A routine heart assessment in Kansas City revealed a deadly thoracic aortic aneurysm for Shirley Allenbrand

Shirley AllenbrandShirley Allenbrand could have missed so many wonderful experiences – her son's wedding, trekking across Europe with her daughter, cheering at her grandson's first T-ball game. She'd have missed all that and so much more if she would have died suddenly in 2005 from a heart aneurysm she didn't know she had. A similar condition claimed actor John Ritter. Few people survive if the aneurysm ruptures.

Lifesaving heart assessment

What saved the Olathe businesswoman's life was a routine heart assessment at The University of Kansas Health System. At 49, she'd had no symptoms of heart disease, no pain. She'd scheduled an assessment only because a friend at the hospital urged her to before starting intensive workouts with a personal trainer.

Results of a routine stress test alarmed her cardiologist and led to further tests. A cardiac catheterization revealed a thoracic aortic aneurysm in her upper aorta that was "about to blow" – rating 4.9 on a 5-point scale for severity. Stunned, Allenbrand learned she needed a complex open heart surgery.

"They told me even lifting a suitcase could've killed me," she says. "Pretty scary, considering I'd just shoveled our driveway and the neighbor's."

Life changing experience leads to action

Fast forward several years, and you find a different Shirley. She and her daughter Tiffany and daughter-in-law Heather have lost more than 160 pounds between them on a weight loss and exercise program. Now an avid golfer, she also recently ran a half marathon (13.5 miles).

The biggest change is her passionate advocacy for improving women's heart health. A longtime civic leader in Kansas, she's thrown her high-energy organizational skills into promoting awareness of women's heart disease at local, state and national levels.

Shirley touts The University of Kansas Health System's heart health services to all who'll listen, insisting friends and colleagues schedule assessments.

"I'm just so incredibly grateful to this hospital for saving my life," she says. "That's why I'm so committed to helping save other women's lives."