Leesa Genco’s sister Sue Duchesneau was the image of health when she ended up in the emergency room with chest pain at age 36. She was diagnosed with a lipid blockage in her left anterior descending artery and received a double bypass graft, a procedure where a vein was taken from her leg and installed in her heart to repair the damaged artery and save her life. What would follow over the next twelve years would be at least 15 other procedures including multiple angiograms and angioplasties.
Following her diagnosis of coronary artery disease, Sue became very involved in the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement and dedicated countless hours to helping raise awareness and funding to support research and education for women’s heart health. She inspired hundreds when she shared her story as the survivor speaker for the American Heart Association Northern Nevada Division’s first Go Red for Women luncheon in 2003.
In 2010, Sue received a heart transplant. Thanks to fearless women in medicine like Margaret Allen, M.D. who was the first female surgeon to perform a heart transplant in 1985, Leesa and her family were given the gift of two and half more years and countless more memories with Sue. However, when Sue was 49 years old her body rejected her new heart and she passed away in February 2013. In 2017, Leesa turned 50. This birthday was an emotional one for her knowing that her older sister would never reach this milestone.
Sue’s cardiac journey was an eye-opening experience for Leesa. She began looking more into her own health to understand her risk for heart disease. Most of Leesa and Sue’s family has genetic high cholesterol which Leesa takes daily medication to help control, so she decided to make healthy lifestyle changes like being more active. Two weeks after Leesa turned 50 she completed her first half marathon and will be running her second one in March. She has also continued Sue’s passion for supporting women’s heart health and created the “Sue’s Sole Sisters” Heart Walk team in her sister’s honor at her work and has been one of the event’s top fundraisers in recent years. She has also voluntarily led the American Heart Association Northern Nevada Division’s Heart Walk Passion Committee since 2014.
Leesa honors her sister every day by wearing Sue’s Red Dress pin in support of the Go Red for Women movement and she welcomes the opportunity to share its significance with others. She also talks to her children and grandchildren about their family’s history of heart disease, so they know their risk and can practice heart healthy habits to help prevent it. Her advice to other women is to know their bodies. Take the time to listen to yourself and don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for your health. Everyone has the right to ask questions “it’s your body and your right your life.”