How One Morning Changed Everything: Diane's Story

Diane and Laura Zellner
Diane, left, and Laura Zeller, exercise physiologist with
UW Health's Preventive
Cardiology Program

From a business owner who raced the clock to a grandmother who savors every moment with her family – how one morning changed everything


It was just over a year ago, Valentine's Day ironically, when Diane, then 60 years old, felt a bubble in her chest that would not go away. She started having difficulty breathing and became so hot and sweaty that she stepped outside on a cold winter's morning in only her light pajamas. When her husband saw her ashen color they decided to call 911. The EMTs arrived and transported her to UW Hospital and Clinics.


At the hospital Diane underwent tests that showed she was having a heart attack. She then had a catheterization procedure that showed she had blockages in two of the arteries of her heart and both were opened with stents.


Diane recalls the day, "I would have never guessed I was having a heart attack. I didn't have any of the typical symptoms of chest pain, arm pain or back pain. I was completely blind-sided by the news." At the time, her risk factors included border-line cholesterol levels and a family history of heart disease.


Diane is applauded for calling 911 and seeking help. Often women do not experience the textbook heart attack symptoms more commonly experienced with men. Diane tells people now, "Don't wait. If you are experiencing something abnormal, get it checked out!"


Today Diane smiles and laughs as she completes her one-year check-up with Laura Zeller, her exercise physiologist at UW Health's Preventive Cardiology program. And Laura couldn't be happier with Diane's progress and lifestyle modifications. She says, "Facing life after a heart attack can be very scary and many people resist the changes they need to make. It has been wonderful to watch Diane embrace her new life with grace, humor and a positive attitude."

Diane Wixson on the treadmill


Initially after being discharged from the hospital, Diane worked with Laura three times per week and consulted a registered dietitian to improve both her exercise and eating habits. Today she is vigilant about her diet which includes more vegetables, fruits and nuts, and she has even lost 20 pounds on her journey to better health. She's filled her home with exercise equipment including a treadmill, stationary bicycle, weight machine and elliptical and rowing machines.


Most importantly, she has become acutely aware of the role of stress in her life. Prior to her heart attack she ran her own retail business and did the bookkeeping for her husband's business. She says, "I don't race the clock anymore. I have learned to slow down and to say 'no' when I need to." The Mickey Mouse watch she wears is a happy reminder of this.


Diane cherishes her role as a mother and grandmother. Her father developed heart disease in his sixties also. Now her own heart attack has been an eye-opener to her children – encouraging those already on a heart-healthy path, and a wake-up call to those who are not. She treasures the time she is able to spend with her five (soon to be six!) grandchildren both near and far.


Most importantly, she is striving to be good role model for her entire family – from her heart-healthy lifestyle modifications, to her awareness of stress, and her positive attitude. She says, "This is my new life and I want to live it for many reasons!"