A Life-Changing Journey

Suzi's heart problems threatened her adventurous lifestyle until she addressed ongoing stress

Portrait of heart patient and advocate Susan Iliff with meditation labyrinth in the background.

Suzi Iliff, 67, has just booked a river cruise to Budapest. She finds that travel is one of the best ways for her to “de-stress” and enjoy retirement, so she takes at least one big trip a year. A former nurse, she understands that keeping stress to a minimum is the key to a heart-healthy life.

It wasn’t until she had a life-changing cardiac event, at age 53, that she realized the impact emotional health can have on your physical well-being.

The connection between stress and heart disease

“Up until then, I was like a healthy heart poster child,” she says.

The bathroom scale was never a cause for concern. She ate a balanced diet, with almost no junk food. Her cholesterol readings were consistently excellent. She loved to ski and roller blade and even ran 10K races.

Then one afternoon she felt her heart racing and she started to cough.

“I got a shooting pain up the side of my neck and wondered, ‘Am I getting bronchitis?’” she recalls.

Like many women, she didn’t want to bother or upset anyone, but she was concerned enough to go to the hospital. That precautionary emergency room visit turned into an overnight hospital stay. The next morning she had an angiogram and was told she needed coronary artery bypass surgery.

“I remember thinking, ‘This was not supposed to be.’ I was active my whole life, my cholesterol was very good, and I had quit smoking 20 years prior,” says Suzi.

Suddenly Suzi turned from a poster child for heart health to a prime example of how stress can be a large factor in the development of heart disease for women. In addition to a demanding job, she was a single mother of three and the full-time caregiver for her two elderly parents, one of whom was a paraplegic, the other with chronic lung disease.

“I was on duty 24-7,” she recalls. “Stress will kill you. You have to figure out a way to manage it.”

Finding support and healing her heart

Suzi found the help and support she needed to heal at Scripps.

“If it weren’t for the cardiac rehab and the care I received at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, I don’t know if I would be here today,” she says. “It is a wonderful, caring and personal place.”

Suzi took advantage of many healing therapies offered at the Center to help her not only recover, but incorporate stress reduction as a part of her healthy lifestyle.

“Healing Touch is offered to all heart patients the day of their surgery. That really made a difference for me,” she says. “Above all else, I learned to listen to my heart. Your body will tell you.”