KENNESAW, Ga. - Shelley Santucci of Kennesaw, Georgia, has been dogged by heart disease for twenty years, and she is only in her mid-fifties.
"I had my first heart attack at 35," the Cobb County furniture store owner says.
"I have had a heart attack, a quintuple bypass, and a cardiac arrest."
The problem, Santucci learned, was not her heart, but her cholesterol.
Her father and all of his siblings, she says, died early of heart disease.
For women, healthy total cholesterol should be about 200 mg or lower.
Santucci's total cholesterol was in the 300's range, well above normal.
"The doctors used to tell me when I was younger, 'You could eat bacon 7 days a week and not get cholesterol as high as yours is,'" Santucci says.
After her heart attack, she was put on statins and other medications to bring down her unhealthy cholesterol.
Still, her numbers would not budge.
By her mid-forties, Santucci says, she was stressed from working 7 days a week at her store and was putting on weight.
Then, she says, she began to feel very tired.
"I went in, and they found some blockages," she says. "They said, 'We need to do a catheterization.'"
She had undergone a stent placement before and expected another quick outpatient procedure.
Instead, Santucci was told she had 5 blocked arteries and would need open-heart surgery as soon as possible.
"They ended up doing a 5-way bypass," Santucci says.
That was 2013.
“I lost a lot of weight after that,” she says. “One year later, it was two days shy of my one-year (bypass) anniversary, and I was excited. I was, like, 'Two more days, I've changed my lifestyle, stopped the bad habits!’ And, I fell over in my front yard with a cardiac arrest."
Santucci says her heart stopped beating for 8 to 10 minutes, but she was brought back to life by a neighbor, who performed CPR
She was stunned.
"I did all of this work,” Santucci remembers thinking. “How did this happen?"
The problem, she learned, was once again, her cholesterol.
Shortly after her cardiac arrest, Santucci learned the FDA has just approved an injectable drug known as Praluent, which might be able to cut her unhealthy cholesterol by more than half.
Within two weeks of the first injection, Santucci says, her cholesterol dropped to 98.
"It has remained between 98 and 120 ever since October of that year," she says.
Shelley Santucci hopes her story will convince others to pay attention to their heart disease risk factors and get their yearly physicals.
"Get your checkups," Santucci says. "You just don't know, you just don't know."
This year FOX 5 Atlanta is a sponsor of the 2020 Greater Atlanta Heart Walk and Run to benefit the American Heart Association.
This year’s event will be held Saturday, October 3, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
The fundraising walk and run will be held online, with participants walking and running in their own communities and tracking their progress on a downloadable app.
For more information on how to get the app and register for the event, go to MetroAtlantaHeartWalk.org.