Patient Stories

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Brenda Keene is CardioSmart

Heart disease was a common thread in her family, but Brenda Keene was not going to give up after being diagnosed with coronary disease.

Brenda Keene has earned praise from her cardiologist for her optimistic attitude and exemplary lifestyle changes after being diagnosed with heart disease.
Brenda, who also has type 2 diabetes, manages her conditions by being as active as possible while trying to eat healthy, take medications correctly and follow up with doctors on a regular basis.

Because of the life-threatening illnesses I have experienced, I have learned to enjoy every minute I have been given.

Brenda Keene: Heart Disease Patient

What is your CardioSmart story?

I am from a small valley in the Appalachian Mountains where heart disease is king. Not only did I grow up in the shadow of the mountains, but heart disease also cast a long shadow in my life. Unfortunately, heart problems are a part of my family tree. My father had his first heart attack at the age of 42 and after numerous complications, died at 59. In addition, my brother died of a suspected brain aneurysm at age 53; he had cardiovascular disease as well. My mother had a heart attack before the age of 60. Growing up, you do not expect to have medical problems until you are in your senior years. However, like my father before me, I found myself going through my own valley sooner than I expected.

My first experience with a serious illness started at the age of 27. With two children under the age of six, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radical mastectomy. I fought the disease for 20 years, receiving radiation and chemotherapy. Years later, during a follow-up with my primary care doctor, he heard a loud murmur, irregular heartbeats and my electrocardiogram was abnormal. My doctor referred me to cardiologist Harrison Turner, MD, FACC in Kingsport, Tenn. My stress test was abnormal and my echocardiogram showed mitral valve damage. Dr. Turner performed a heart catheterization and it showed two blockages and severe mitral valve regurgitation. Two weeks later, I had open-heart surgery to bypass the blockages, a procedure to reshape my atrium called a Maze procedure, and my mitral valve was replaced. When I awoke, I was on a ventilator and so thankful to be alive. I wanted the tube out of my mouth so I could breathe and start finding a way I could defeat this disease. I felt I had been given my share of trials and I now had two options: give up or fight on. I decided giving up was not an option. I had fought cancer, and now this was a new battle. I had so many places I wanted to visit, happy times to experience with my family, and much more life to live!

Unfortunately, just a few days after my heart surgery, my husband was sent to Afghanistan for 18 months and I was left to deal with my recovery and a family crisis on my own. Furthermore, I had to deal with complications such as heart failure. With the support of my family and my physicians, I kept going.

Because of the life-threatening illnesses I have experienced, I have learned to enjoy every minute I have been given. I manage my type 2 diabetes and heart disease by trying to eat healthy, taking medications and following up with doctors regularly. I stay as active as possible. Although it has been said many times, it is true, your attitude is a big part of recovery from any illness. I have volunteered at our local hospice house, organized walkers for Relay for Life and the National Alliance for Mental Health and volunteered at our local elementary school. I went to Capitol Hill and advocated for assistance for mental health.

I hope my story will in some way inspire others to live CardioSmart. If you keep your mind and body active and follow the advice of your health care practitioners, I am living proof you can live every day to its fullest!

How do you work with your doctors and care team to stay on top of your heart condition?

I visit my primary care doctor every 3–4 months, and he monitors my blood sugar, cholesterol, and regulates the anticoagulation medicine. He also orders an EKG on my visits. My primary care doctor then send all labs and reports of the visit to my cardiologist. When I visit my cardiologist, he in turn sends all results of tests and reports to my primary care doctor. My doctor listens to me; we are on the same team.

I am proud to share that my cardiologist, Dr. Turner, has said of me: “She has been a mentally and physically tough lady who has endured much in the treatment of her breast cancer followed by problems related to coronary disease, requiring valve replacement. She recovered from this rather extensive procedure and has done beautifully over time. … Throughout all this time she has helped raise and care for a family, she has had an exemplary lifestyle with no tobacco or alcohol use, excellent compliance, optimal anticoagulation, and followed her rehabilitation recommendations. She enjoys life and lives each day to the fullest. Her spirit in dealing with two major life-threatening problems has been an inspiration.”

What lifestyle changes did you make to improve your heart health?

Exercise does not have to be boring, and taking warfarin daily does not limit anything I do. My favorite place to walk is beside the creek. Not only does it provide very important exercise, being in nature is so relaxing. Managing stress is a key part of improving cardiovascular health. I enjoy Zumba, and I have even danced on stage, doing the “Fly” with Chubby Checker. I have pictures as proof! I have been to Disney World, gone horseback riding, taken trips to the beach, toured the White House, and taken a swamp tour in New Orleans. My bucket list has a lot more adventures planned—including Europe. This summer I plan to visit the Grand Canyon.

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