Go Red: Two La Crosse women take back control of heart health

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women causing one in three deaths a year

Heart disease has touched everyone one way or another. It’s the No. 1 killer of women causing one in three deaths a year.

Although you may have been impacted by the disease, two La Crosse women prove it doesn’t have to define you and say it’s never too late to take back control of your heart health.

This year is turning out to be an exciting year for 55-year-old Peggy Lyden.

“We have three granddaughters between the two of us and we will have six by Christmas so very excited,” said Lyden.

But unfortunately, it didn’t start out that way. A while ago, Lyden decided to work on her health.

“I cut out fatty foods and was eating healthier, more whole foods and I was exercising maybe once a week,” said Lyden. “I thought I was doing pretty well. I thought I was getting my health back to where it should be.”

After making the changes, Lyden expected to feel better, but that just wasn’t the case.

“In January, I was having just really funny feelings in the back of my throat and mouth,” said Lyden. “Not hard to breath and it wasn’t a typical sore throat because it was in my mouth, like at the back of my mouth.”

At first, Lyden attributed it to her new healthier lifestyle, so she decided to tighten up her diet, but the funny feeling persisted.

“Most of the time I was having these feelings at night while I was sleeping and it would wake me up,” said Lyden.

Eventually, Lyden’s husband convinced her to see a doctor because of her family history.

“My dad has had four bypass surgeries done and my brother had a stint put in about seven years ago, he had a heart attack,” said Lyden.

The doctor suggested a chest X-ray, an EKG and a blood enzyme test. Lyden thought she was waiting around for a prescription for acid reflux, but was shocked at what she learned next.

“The doctor came in and she asked me if I was having any chest pains and I said no,” said Lyden.

Lyden learned she had a heart attack. A test showed one of her arteries was 95 percent blocked.

“She continued to explain things and at that time I kind of shut down. I am not sure what she is saying anymore,” said Lyden.

“It dawned on me that you are telling me I am not going home today and she said, ‘Nope,’ and I said, ‘Should I be calling my husband?’ and she said, ‘Yes, yes you should,'” said Lyden.

Lyden had suffered what doctors call a silent heart attack.

“I didn’t know I had a heart attack. I am still not sure when I had a heart attack,” said Lyden.

Within minutes of receiving the news, Lyden was checked into the hospital and a stint was put in.

“While I was in the hospital someone from cardiac rehab came up and asked me if I would like to do cardiac rehab,” said Lyden.

Lyden agreed and started going to the hospital three times a week for exercise.

“It’s the best thing I have done for myself in a very long time,” said Lyden.

To date, Lyen has finished her cardiac rehab and has decided to continue her lifestyle by joining a gym; losing about 60 pounds so far.

“After I exercise I feel better about myself because I did it, I am still continuing and I can feel the changes that are happening,” said Lyden. “I wish I would have started at 35, so I would have an additional 20 years to enjoy everything because it’s easier to do everything now.”

Those words of wisdom are being taken to heart by mother of three, Christina Flisram.

“It’s so much easier to take steps to prevent something from happening rather than having it happen and try to repair those effects,” said Flisram.

Flisram has always been an athlete; spending most of her time in the water.

“During high school I swam on the team, then went to college and swam there,” said Flisram.

After college, Flisram got married and had three kids. She noticed over the years she had gained some weight.

“At one point in time, I remember getting on the scale and going, ‘Oh my gosh’ and it was becoming harder and harder to continue to maintain all the activities my kids were doing and I just thought I need to change something here,” said Flisram.

Heart disease runs in her family.

“My dad has had heart complications. I have had grandparents who have had heart complications,” said Flisram.

So she knew now was the time to make a lifestyle change.

“I think it added fuel to the fire so to speak,” said Flisram.

She started watching her diet and trying to work out every day.

“Diet and exercise is the one thing we have control over, we can’t control our parents or our genetics,” said Flisram.

The pounds started coming off and Flisram started to have more energy to spend with her kids.

“We mountain bike as a family so we are gone almost every weekend to mountain bike races,” said Flisram.

In September, Flisram will be competing in her first full Ironman triathlon, which is a total distance of 140.6 miles.

“I tell people I go between being scared to death and being excited that I can’t explain it all at once,” said Flisram. “It’s setting little goals and celebrating those. It’s not always about the complete end destinations. It’s what am I going to do by next week or a month from now that I am going to be proud of.”

Now, Lyden has that same outlook.

“I have been nicer to myself along the way. If I had a bad day dieting wise, I could pick it up the next day,” said Lyden.

Two completely different women are changing their lives in two completely different ways because of one common goal: putting up a fight against heart disease.

“I have lots of new grandbabies coming this year and I want to enjoy being around them,” said Lyden.

“It’s really about what can I do today so that I don’t have some issues later on in life,” said Flisram.

Lyden and Flisram’s story is being featured at the American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red for women luncheon’ in La Crosse.

It’s an event to help raise awareness and funds to support research, education and community programs to benefit women’s cardiovascular health.       

The luncheon is Wednesday, June 17 starting at 10:30 a.m. in the Cargill room at the Waterfront Restaurant in downtown La Crosse.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the luncheon or women and heart disease, check out lacrossegored.org.