That was the message lifelong heart patient Rudy Wilson Galdonik delivered to more than 600 women Friday during northern Nevada’s seventh annual American Heart Association (AHA) Go Red for Women luncheon at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
When Galdonik was 5 years old, doctors discovered she had a hole between the top two chambers of her heart. In those days, operations were not performed on children with heart defects unless they were “literally at death’s door,” she said.
Rather than performing a risky operation on the 5-year-old, doctors told Galdonik’s mother to keep her still.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Galdonik said. “I wanted to learn how to rollerskate because everyone was doing it back then, so my parents gave me one skate … it slowed me down.”
For the next 20 years, Galdonik lived a fairly sedentary lifestyle as a means of coping with her condition.
“One doctor once said, ‘Old age will be your worst enemy,’ ” Galdonik said. “It turns out old age for me was 25.”
At 25 years old, Galdonik started experiencing irregular heartbeats and learned from a Good Housekeeping article that those irregular heartbeats could mean she needed to have surgery to repair the valves in her heart.
Galdonik saw a doctor who told her she was lonely and needed to get pregnant.
“Without ever lifting a stethoscope” that doctor gave her advice that could have proven fatal, Galdonik said.
“If I had become pregnant, it would have killed me and the baby,” she said.
Convinced the doctor was wrong, Galdonik continued to look for a doctor who could help her. Then she located Dr. David Munson.
“I finally found somebody who was not only smart, he was really cute, too,” Galdonik joked.
The day before Galdonik turned 26, Munson performed surgery to patch the holes and repair the mitral valve in her heart.
“He actually stitched the valve closed,” she said, “which proved to be a smart move.”
Smart move, indeed. Galdonik went 22 years and gave birth to two children before she began experiencing heart problems again.
“I had a heart infection,” Galdonik said, which resulted in the replacement of her aortic valve and mitral valve with mechanical valves.
These days Galdonik takes blood-thinning medication to keep the mechanical valves working properly. She also has a pacemaker because the scar tissue in her heart from numerous surgeries was interfering with her heartbeat.
Galdonik is grateful to be here today and uses her experience to raise awareness of heart disease. She has written a book titled “Take Heart” in which she uses humor to get out her message about heart health.
“I can use my journey to at least get women thinking,” she said. “I am trying to convince women on a personal level — take charge of your health!”
Mendy Elliott also spoke at the Go Red luncheon Friday, but she delivered a different message.
“I am here to raise awareness about the importance of being a donor,” Elliott said.
Elliott shared the story of her father, William Karraker, whose life was prolonged by almost one year thanks to the generosity of an organ donor.
Karraker was the eighth patient in the United States and the 86th in the world to receive a heart transplant on Nov. 22, 1968. He was the first president of the World Heart Transplant Club, which was founded with the purpose of promoting and discussing the need for organ donors.
“He testified in Congress on the importance of research,” Elliott said of her father, who was a decorated World War II veteran.
Elliott’s father passed away Aug. 31, 1969.
“My father always said he cherished every day,” Elliott said. “He’d say if it weren’t for that young man who donated his heart, he wouldn’t have been given a second chance.”
Heart disease kills about 450,000 women each year, an AHA press release states. Go Red for Women is a grassroots campaign that was launched in 2003 to combat this statistic.
“Go Red for Women provides a plan to help women assess their personal risk for heart disease and stroke and empowers them to lower their risk through simple healthy lifestyle changes,” the release states. “The AHA asks women to visit their doctor regularly; learn their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers; and take action to safeguard their own health and the health of their loved ones.”