© 2018. Celebrating Her Heart Health. All Rights Reserved. La Crosse WI

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Our 2019 Survivor

Fun Facts:

I am married to the best guy named Michael, we have two beautiful girls, Betsy is 10y and Anabelle is 8y. 


I’m a nurse for the school district of La Crosse.  I enjoy all sorts of crafting and I love to laugh.

Sara Lieurance

2019 Survivor

I had a heart attack on Jan 7, 2018. I have NO risk factors: no family history, no clogged arteries, I am active and generally eat healthy (there is always room for improvement). All of my lab work is normal. I’m 38...not your typical age to have a heart attack. My diagnosis is SCAD (Spontaneous Coronary Arterial Dissection) which is a tear in the inside lining of my LAD (left atrial descending artery). No known cause. My symptoms began with a fatigued/achy feeling underneath both of my arms from the elbows to the armpit area. There was some slight tightness in my chest. These symptoms became stronger as time progressed and I developed some nausea, slight sweating, and the achy feeling radiated to my jaw and down the bottom of my forearms to my pinky fingers. From onset of symptoms to the 911 call was 5-8 min. Eventually the fatigue became stronger, my chest tighter, and when EMS arrived, my BP and heart rate were NORMAL. My EKG said otherwise and my jaw had gone completely numb...they gave me aspirin, put me in the ambulance, then Nitroglycerin during transport to Gundersen. From the ER, I went to the cath lab where they verified it was a heart attack and placed 2 stents. I was in my room in CCU less than 2 hours after my 911 call...actually about 2 hours from the onset of symptoms. 


Be educated on the symptoms...it may not be crushing chest pain, especially in women. Learn from my story...it can happen to you at ANY age, with NO RISK FACTORS. I ran a 5K the day prior, and this occurred after finishing a yoga class. I had no symptoms leading up to this.

Our 2019 Survivor Models

Soojin Kim Ritterling, Ph.D.

2019 Survivor Model

A 2009-2010 Fulbright Scholar to South Korea, Dr. Soojin Kim Ritterling isProfessor of Music Education at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she teaches applied voice and general music methods classes in music education. She also directs the UWL Korean Percussion Ensembles. She is a contributing author for the Korean music units in the Spotlight on Musictextbook series by MacMillan/McGraw-Hill, and Kaleidoscope of Cultures by MENC and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

2019 Survivor Model

Judy Bissen

I was 23 when I was diagnosed with cancer. Funny way to start a story of being a heart surgery survivor? Maybe but more on that later. 

My cancer treatment dictated that I undergo 6 months of chemotherapy and 6 weeks of chest mantle radiation. I credit my daughter (Jaci who was only 13 months old at the time), my family (special thanks to my sister Shirley for coming to treatments with me), and everyone who prayed for me with helping me through all of this. I am now considered in complete remission for the past 30 years. I’m lucky.

Since then, life has been busy. I teach small children by day and adults by night. While there was no guarantee I could become pregnant again after the cancer treatments, my husband Steve and I added two (now grown) sons, Geoffrey and Nicholas, to our family.  I have had a number of medical conditions over the years, mild to quite serious, and many of these showed a relationship to a cancer diagnosis/treatment. But I have come through it all. Once again I’ve been lucky. 

In April of 2018 came a week of cold weather and volunteering at a large event in La Crosse. I had become more tired over the past year but nothing like that week. I had other increasing symptoms (cough, shortness of breath) that made the doctors concerned as the week went by. In the following weeks I was diagnosed with radiation-induced heart disease and on June 21stI underwent open heart surgery, receiving two new heart valves and clearing of left bundle-branch blockage.  

Some people may wonder how I can be lucky. At 54 I have had cancer, 6 surgeries, including open heart surgery with 194 minutes on a bypass machine, various medical conditions, and other stresses. I continue to learn to trust myself physically: if it doesn’t feel right, keep asking questions. As a result, I have met many wonderful people in the medical field - doctors, nurses, physical therapists, dieticians, cardiac rehab, and more - who kept me alive and kicking. They have given me hope and numerous second chances. I have the support and love of my family and know who my true friends are. So yes – I am still lucky.

Kristen Meyers

2019 Survivor Model

My name is Kristen Meyers, I’m 21, from this beautiful city of La Crosse. I currently go to Viterbo University in La Crosse majoring in elementary education and minor in special education.


I have had two open heart surgery, one when I was just a couple months old and another when I was 11 years old. The last one was less invasive to put in a Melody valve in June of 2018. After my last operation, I'm feeling great and back to my normal routine of working, going to school and being active.


I'm excited to be apart of Celebrating Her Heart Health event, this will be my second one and hopefully more to come!

Past Survivors

Donna Brown

2018 Survivor Story

Donna Bryan was age 74 when she experienced her heart event. It was July 1, 2017. She was taking out the trash when she suddenly had chest pain. She went to the ER at Mayo Clinic Health System – Franciscan Healthcare, and was diagnosed immediately

with a heart attack. She was brought to the cardiac cath lab where she was found to have multiple blockages in her coronary arteries. She had 3 stents placed in 2 different arteries. She also found out that her heart was weak, and diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.


During her hospitalization, she went back to the cath lab 3 days later with concern for other blockages, but there was no change. A few weeks later, Donna came to her first cardiac rehab session. As soon as she arrived, Donna had difficulty breathing and the staff knew something was wrong. Donna had a buildup of fluid in her lung (pleural effusion) and around her heart (pericardial effusion). She had to have the fluid in her lung drawn out with a needle (thoracentesis) and was also treated with medication. She was in the hospital for 2 days. Just 3 days after returning home, she had a recurrence of symptoms that brought her back to the ER. The fluid in her lung had returned. She had to have another procedure to remove it (thoracentesis), and stayed at the hospital for a few more days.

After all of this, Donna came to cardiac rehab about 1 week after her last hospitalization. Given everything she had been through, she was very fearful of doing anything. Slowly but surely, Donna used monitored exercise therapy to regain her strength and stamina. She was thankful for the education and care she received, and began to feel more comfortable to work a little more each week that she came. She continued to give great effort and gain confidence as she continued her cardiac rehab therapy. Three months later, Donna had made huge improvements in her ability and confidence with her activity. On her first day, Donna was able to exercise at low workloads for 10 minutes, and rated it as somewhat hard to hard.

A few months later, Donna was doing up to an hour of exercise at higher workloads, and was rating it easier than before. She completed her monitored cardiac rehab therapy, and continues to exercise 3x/week in the outpatient exercise program, and walk with a friend at home. Donna will also tell you that she made some good friends in cardiac rehab along the way.

On January 13, 2018, Donna had another scary medical event. She was driving home with her granddaughter when she was having trouble breathing and felt like she was going to pass out. She pulled over and gave her granddaughter her phone and told her to call her mother. That was the last thing she remembers until she woke up with a breathing tube in the hospital. Her lungs had suddenly filled up with fluid. Her granddaughter ended up calling 911 and Donna received lifesaving emergency care. Her family was called and notified she was in critical condition and her recovery was uncertain. Amazingly, Donna made a remarkable and swift recovery from this event. Her doctors told her that the exercise she did following her heart attack had strengthened her heart, and that if she hadn’t done it, she wouldn’t be alive. Throughout all of this, Donna has maintained a positive attitude, and is grateful and appreciative of all of the care and support she has received.