Diane Graf: Heart Disease and Stroke Survivor

Diane Graf

For months, I felt miserable. I had a cough, chills and other symptoms that went away briefly but kept returning.

I saw a variety of doctors and took lots of medicines. At one point, I felt good enough to go on vacation. While I was away, the same old problems returned, along with a new one – swollen ankles.

A general practitioner said I was anemic and started a new treatment plan. I only got worse. I became so tired and out of breath that my colleagues insisted I see another doctor. He did some tests and changed my medicines, but we still didn’t know what was causing it all.

Finally, after six months of dealing with this, someone had a better grip on what was happening. That person was Mike Mussallem, chairman and CEO of Edwards Lifesciences, a company that specializes in products and technologies to treat heart problems.

That’s right – I work for a company dedicated to solving cardiovascular issues. Yet, I never realized my heart was the source of all my problems.

Mike heard all of my symptoms and suspected heart disease. He arranged for me to meet with a new doctor right away, which led to the discovery of a heart murmur. An echocardiogram showed I had endocarditis, an infection in the inner lining of my heart, and I was immediately admitted to the hospital.

Further tests determined that the endocarditis damaged my aortic and mitral heart valves, and that both needed to be replaced. The tests also showed that I had suffered a stroke.

When I think back, I know exactly when the stroke happened. I remember sitting at my desk one day and having a shadow come over me for a few seconds. It was a very odd feeling and I even wondered then whether it was a stroke. Since I lost my mother to a stroke, I knew I was at a higher risk than others. However, this was in the midst of enduring my long list of ailments, so I dismissed it as merely another symptom.

On Oct. 24, 2011, my mitral and aortic valves were replaced with two pericardial tissues valves manufactured by – who else? – Edwards Lifesciences. As a longtime employee of the company, that was very reassuring.

I returned to work two months later, and have been enjoying a healthier life ever since. I’m back to doing the physical activities I enjoyed before all the problems began, doing things such as bike riding, walking, hiking and traveling – and I feel great. I am no longer on any type of medication and there are no lasting signs of my surgery, except for the scar on my chest that I wear very proudly as a heart disease survivor.

I look forward to meeting the people who literally made my new heart valves. I want them to know that their work is so important. Their work saves lives. It brings a mom, like me, back to her three kids.

I also want to help the American Heart Association build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. This year, I was a team captain for the Orange County Heart Walk at Disneyland, and together with my 350+ Edwards teammates, we raised over $35,000 to help people suffering from heart disease just like me.

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