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Brenda Lubenow is CardioSmart

Brenda was diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 30. Determined to see her children grow up, Brenda followed her doctor's advice and immediately started on medication and an exercise regimen, in addition to significantly improving her diet.

Brenda, seen here with her family, was diagnosed with heart failure in 2003, when her son was 5 and her daughter 3.
Brenda's ejection fraction has increased from 15% to 45%, and she credits her family and medical team for supporting and motivating her throughout her journey.

I incorporate exercise into our busy lives. ... I always remind myself of what I could lose if I don't keep it up.

Brenda Lubenow: Heart Failure patient

What is your CardioSmart story?

On June 4, 2003, I woke in the middle of the night and was unable to catch my breath. For the past few days I had been having trouble catching my breath and assumed I was coming down with bronchitis or pneumonia. I told my husband I was going to the emergency room and that I would drive myself so we did not have to wake our kids. Within minutes of being at the emergency room it was apparent to me that they were concerned about more than bronchitis. They stated that my oxygen level was down to 85% and that they wanted to take an x-ray of my heart. The ER doctor immediately noticed that my heart was enlarged and I was admitted to the hospital. The staff was very quick to contact doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. An echocardiogram revealed that my ejection fraction was at 15% and that I was in heart failure, at which point I was airlifted to Rochester. I remember calling my husband to tell him what was going on and thinking to myself that this cannot be possible, I am only 30 years old.

After further testing, the doctors were unable to identify the cause of my heart failure and I was told that I had Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Being the mother to two young children, the scariest part for me was that they could not guarantee that my condition would improve or what my life expectancy could be. I returned home and was unable to care for my children by myself and found myself exhausted after doing little things around the house. Thankfully, by following my doctor's advice, things improved quickly. I was immediately started on medication and was told that I needed to make some serious diet changes. I cut salt out of my diet, decreased my liquid intake to 8 cups a day, and made healthier diet choices. I was also told that if I did not exercise, I would die. I was overweight and not a fan of exercise, but was determined I was going to be around for a long while to watch my 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son grow up.

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

Following my diagnosis, I met with my doctor, Martha Grogan, MD, FACC, several times a year. In addition to heart failure, I also was diagnosed with Ventricular Tachycardia, having 30,000 extra heartbeats a day. I relied on Dr. Grogan's expertise to help me make decisions about procedures that could help me, and after two heart ablations and by following a medication regime, I have increased my ejection fraction to 45%. Dr. Grogan and her staff provided me with guidance and support to make changes in my lifestyle to ensure that I was living life to its fullest.

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

The biggest changes I have made are with diet and exercise. My new "diet" affected my whole family. We all cut down on our salt intake and incorporated more fruits and vegetables into our diet. In addition, our extended family became involved and helped us all make better food choices. Exercise also became a regular event in my life. I am not an exercise junkie nor have I done anything fabulous, but I do make sure that I am not sitting around and that I am going for walks or to the gym. I always think twice before I use an elevator or get in the car to drive somewhere I could easily walk.

What challenges do you face? How are you able to overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced is remaining positive. There were many times I was scared and feared the worst, but with the support of my family and medical team I made the decision to live life to its fullest. I became determined to do things I enjoyed and to make memories for my kids. I also incorporate exercise into our busy lives. There have been many times along the way that I have lost my motivation but I have always worked my way back and remind myself of what I could lose if I don't keep it up.

Who is your support system?

My family, friends, Dr. Grogan and her staff have been huge supports and motivators for me. They have encouraged me, kept me focused and celebrated all of my successes, big or small.

Do you have a personal motto? What inspires you?

Live life to its fullest! I try to not take life for granted, see and do things that I want to do, make sure my kids have awesome memories, not judge others or sweat the small stuff. I am not an extravagant person, it is the day-to-day things that I love, enjoy and cherish with my family and friends.

Brenda's Favorite CardioSmart Resources

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