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Text courtesy of the American Heart Association | Photos by Abbie Treme Photography of NWA

Lori Wood: A Survivor’s Story

Lori Wood is an unlikely face of heart disease.


She is married to her high school sweetheart, and the couple have three young-adult children, one son-in-law and one granddaughter. She has always led an active, healthy lifestyle. Prior to her diagnosis, Lori had never been hospitalized outside of childbirth or been on a prescription other than an antibiotic. She had perfect blood pressure and enviable cholesterol levels. She had no risk factors, no family history of heart problems of any kind on either side of her family.


Life for Lori was good. At a scheduled medical evaluation in 2015, she was told she had less than a 3% chance of ever developing heart disease. (Not a surprise, given her genes, good numbers and lifelong health.)


Then, just three weeks later, Lori almost died from heart failure from severe idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes unusual tissue thinning and expansion in the heart’s main pumping chamber.


She had no idea her heart was functioning at just 6% the day she walked into her primary care physician’s office, thinking she had the flu.


“I was directly admitted to cardiac ICU and given a diagnosis of end-stage heart failure,” Lori said. “With the largest heart my doctors had ever seen, I spent 14 days in ICU as they worked around the clock to save my life.”

She was flown to Cleveland Clinic, where she became her cardiologist’s most critical patient for a year and a half.


“Later, I learned that I was the sickest patient she had treated in her 16 years as the director of the Women’s Heart Failure Clinic and as the associate director for the Heart Transplant Program at Cleveland Clinic, the top heart hospital in the nation,” Lori said.


During that time, Lori wore a Life Vest external defibrillator, took multiple carefully titrated meds at maximum dosages and adopted a low-sodium diet. Eventually, she was implanted with a Biventricular CRT-D, a combination pacemaker/internal defibrillator with three wire leads specially designed for heart failure.


Still, she had no measurable improvement for a year and a half, despite top-notch medical care. Then, against all medical odds, her heart function was temporarily restored 16 months after her diagnosis.


“But, as heart failure goes, my condition has experienced ups and downs since then,” she said.


Lori Wood with her family

Lori’s story is not fully written. Since that remarkable reversal, her heart function has taken several significant drops. She is learning more every year about the unpredictability of this condition. Heart failure is a chronic, progressive disease. For most, medical science can manage the symptoms. For some, they can slow the progression. Lori’s medical team is now talking about a heart transplant again.


“With shortages, a long waiting list and the issues a transplant brings, this is not a sure thing,” Lori said.


She added, “Doctors still don’t know what caused my heart failure. We may never know. But I do know I had symptoms for years that I didn’t recognize as heart-related.”


For at least a decade, Lori had shortness of breath, inability to exercise, unexplained weight gain from fluid retention, difficulty with inclines and a constant, dry cough. These all seemed insignificant individually, so she had no idea how concerning they could be together.

Lori said she brushed the symptoms off as aging or being out of shape, but she regrets not sharing them with her PCP. 


“But I also remain grateful for the thousands of people who care and give and research and innovate and listen and pray,” she said. “In the eight years that care has bought me, I’ve emptied my nest, become a grandmother and written a book.”


Lori continues to live past her prognosis, managing her heart disease with a passion for sharing the heart failure warning signs she missed so that others can be better informed and have an earlier diagnosis.


She is the featured survivor at the Northwest Arkansas Go Red for Women Luncheon at the Rogers Convention Center on May 21. She will tell her compelling story from the stage and speak directly to the women in attendance, underscoring the need to pay close attention to heart health.


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