HCA Healthcare colleagues champion heart health after personal journeys as patients

Each February, American Heart Month encourages us to raise awareness about cardiovascular disease and stroke in ourselves and others. HCA Healthcare is a proud supporter of the American Heart Association (AHA) and together are working to educate colleagues, patients and communities across the nation on the risks and warning signs of heart disease and stroke.

Why I wear red

During American Heart Month in February, the nation comes together by wearing red to bring greater attention to cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. Over 60 million women in the United States are living with some form of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cardiovascular disease can refer to a number of different conditions, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart valve problems

Learn about the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease and when to call 9-1-1.

As we recognize American Heart Month, three HCA Healthcare colleagues share how their personal journeys as cardiac patients has influenced the way they deliver care and fueled their passion for championing heart health.   

Surgical services manager inspires by making strides

HCA Healthcare colleague Jessica and her daughter. HCA Healthcare colleague Jessica and her daughter.
Jessica Kelley, Manager of Surgical Services, TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center, and her daughter

HCA Healthcare colleagues support AHA by participating in Heart Walks, which are held in hundreds of communities across the country. The Heart Walk is AHA’s premiere event for raising funds to improve and save lives.

In 2023, HCA Healthcare colleagues in Nashville raised over $125,000 at the Nashville Heart Walk, exhibiting the power of togetherness. This impact of a local Heart Walk is made possible thanks to dedicated volunteers like registered nurse Jessica Kelley who is a manager of surgical services at HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center in Tennessee.

Participation in events such as the Heart Walk are driven by a powerful emphasis on a personal “why.” Jessica fully understood her “why” after experiencing her own healthcare journey 11 years ago. Her experience allows her to care for patients and support colleagues in a more meaningful way because she can relate to many of their stories.

At 19 years old, Jessica was shown scans of her heart with a one-inch hole and was ultimately diagnosed with a small congenital anomaly of an atrial septal defect and underwent a course of action to repair her heart, which included open heart surgery at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “The biggest lesson I learned from my heart journey was to listen to your body,” Jessica shared. “If I hadn’t listened to my body when I wasn’t getting better, I might not be here today.”

The support Jessica and her family received during this scary time in her life is one of the reasons she pays it forward. Every year since her operation, Jessica has shown up by spearheading fundraising efforts for her Heart Walk team and walking alongside fellow survivors and supporters. “There is nothing more humbling than having everything taken away from you, even your strength to walk. It fills my cup to serve in this way,” Jessica said.

“The most touching part about the Heart Walk for me is seeing all the survivors with their families. There is nothing more humbling.”

Jessica Kelley, Manager of Surgical Services, TriStar Hendersonville Medical Center

Administrative assistant’s road to recovery and advocacy 

HCA Healthcare colleague Alexandria Smith HCA Healthcare colleague Alexandria Smith
Alexandria Smith, Administrative Assistant, HCA Houston Healthcare Southwest

As an administrative assistant at HCA Houston Healthcare Southeast, Alexandria Smith is able to witness firsthand the quality care her HCA Healthcare colleagues delivered to patients. Alexandria unexpectedly became a patient herself after experiencing a seizure at work in August 2023. Thanks to the quick actions of her colleagues, the 31-year-old mother’s life was saved.

“My heart was stopped for about five to six seconds at a time,” Alexandria said. Dr. Omar Jeroudi, her cardiologist at the Pasadena, Texas hospital, recommended Alexandria wear a 30-day heart monitor to track her heart’s data. When Alexandria had a second seizure at work while wearing the heart monitor, he discovered her heart was infrequently stopping. This led to her rare diagnosis of Sick Sinus Syndrome.

Alexandria underwent a life-changing procedure on October 10, 2023 – the implementation of a permanent pacemaker by Dr. Jose Cuellar-Silva, a cardiac electrophysiologist at HCA Houston Healthcare Southeast.

“Sinus Sick Syndrome is prevalent among the elderly, typically occurring around the age of 70,” Dr. Cuellar-Silva said. “The condition is linked to the natural degeneration of the electrical system due to aging, making it secondary to the aging process. The diagnosis is rare before the age of 50, and even more so in individuals in their 30s.”

Since her surgery in October, Alexandria has been seizure-free and is currently rediscovering the joy of everyday activities. “I am now not only able to enjoy time with my own family, including my 13-year-old daughter, but also with my HCA Healthcare work family,” Alexandria said. “We constantly talk about caring like family, and that is not something that I have only seen, but now got to experience.”

Despite the rarity of her condition among younger individuals, she is passionate about raising awareness and encouraging everyone to prioritize health screenings.

“I wear red to remind everyone that heart disease doesn’t care about age or preexisting conditions, it can affect anyone!”

Alexandria Smith, Administrative Assistant, HCA Houston Healthcare Southeast

A nurse’s journey to educate and empower

HCA Healthcare colleague Jennifer Harlan in a red shirt HCA Healthcare colleague Jennifer Harlan in a red shirt
Jennifer Harlan, Cardiac Nurse, Rose Medical Center

HCA Healthcare nurse Jennifer Harlan proudly wears red throughout February and year-round as a three-time heart attack survivor. “I wear red to remind everyone, women in particular, not to ignore the symptoms of a heart attack,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer cares for cardiac patients every day at affiliate Rose Medical Center Medical Center in Denver, Colorado, but never expected to be a patient herself. She experienced her first heart attack in February 2018 at the age of 47 and lost 30% of her heart function. The official diagnosis was SCAD, or spontaneous coronary artery dissection, which is a rare heart condition that can happen suddenly with no apparent warning or prior risk factors. SCAD can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing life-threatening heart problems, such as heart attacks.

In August of 2023, Jennifer experienced her most recent heart attack while at home with her husband. He quickly called 911 and administered CPR until first responders arrived. “I’m alive today because my husband was trained in CPR and started chest compressions on me almost immediately,” Jennifer shared. “You never know when this could happen to a total stranger, or to someone you love.”

Jennifer is now thriving in recovery, forever grateful to those who saved her life. “I wear red because I’m so grateful to be alive after three heart attacks and a cardiac arrest. I’m thankful to my husband and all the first responders who acted so quickly to save my life.” In November 2023, Jennifer had the opportunity to meet with the EMS crew who saved her life at affiliate Sky Ridge Medical Center. “I cannot thank them enough – they are the reason I am here today,” she said.

Learn how Jennifer’s experiences have added a unique layer of compassion and understanding to the care she provides on Fox News.

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