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A Heart Healed

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Kelly Rizer celebrates her wedding

Kelly Rizer’s wedding to her high school friend-turned-fiancé was scheduled for October of 2022. While Kelly’s heart was full of love, it almost didn’t let her walk down the aisle. But thanks to the care she received with University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, she experienced both life-saving heart surgery and her wedding within a very short period of time.

Her biological father had high cholesterol and he sadly passed away from a heart attack. When Kelly got tested, her cholesterol was also high. She started statins at 18 years old, which helped to manage her condition, but she still worried. Over time, she slipped into bad health habits.

”I wasn’t on my meds,” she admitted. ”I didn’t have a doctor. I didn’t have insurance yet, and I just, you know, it wasn’t one of those things that I made a priority like I should have, and I was noticing shortness of breath.”

Finally, she saw a doctor who ordered a stress test.

“My blood pressure shot up to over 200, and I did not last very long,” she said. “I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. I was breathing so hard.”

Kelly underwent a heart catheterization in August of 2022 which revealed she needed open heart surgery.

”By the time we saw Kelly, she had significant coronary artery disease,” said Dr. Marc Pelletier, cardiac surgeon at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. “She had built up a fair amount of calcium and plaque in her arteries that supply blood to her heart muscle. On top of that, she had calcification on her aortic valve.”

Coronary artery disease (CAD) happens when the arteries struggle to supply the heart with enough blood, oxygen and nutrients. Commonly, cholesterol deposits, or plaques, are the cause. These buildups narrow the arteries, decreasing blood flow to the heart. This can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or even heart attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 20 million Americans, or 7 percent of the population, have CAD.

Kelly Rizer and her husband

Kelly needed urgent surgery to avoid a serious negative outcome. It was scheduled for September 6, with the wedding on October 16. Kelly had no plans of missing her big day, or her 43rd birthday a few days later.

”I was determined I would’ve gotten married in the hospital if I had to,” she said, laughing. “I had the date for three years. I wasn’t changing it.”

Kelly’s surgery and recovery went well. She didn’t need a hospital wedding. The ceremony went on as planned, with just a bit of a scar peeking out of Kelly’s wedding dress.

”The fact that she was able to have heart surgery and then go on to get married about a month later is pretty amazing,” Dr. Pelletier said.

Kelly thanks Dr. Pelletier and the UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute team for addressing her issue and getting her to her wedding day a healthier bride. The couple hopes their story encourages others to take earlier action.

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