Maura’s Legacy Against Cardiovascular Disease

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This article is part of the “Lead Your Legacy Against Cardiovascular Disease” series. Cardiovascular disease is a group of conditions that involve the heart and blood vessels. Common complications include heart attack, chest pain (angina), or stroke.

At any time, here or as you finish reading about each individual’s experience, you can click through and take a simple pledge to lead a legacy of fewer lives lost to cardiovascular disease.

Maura O’Brien

Illustration by Cindy Echevarria

Meet Maura

Maura O’Brien, 67, is a retired registered dietitian from New York and a devoted mother and grandmother. Her experience with cardiovascular disease made her realize that she needed to put her health first so she could continue caring for those around her. She helps educate other women about cardiovascular disease through the organization WomenHeart.

Deciding to Pledge

When Maura O’Brien turned 64 in 2017, she thought she was in the clear when it came to her heart. She’d focused on health throughout her life, spurred in part by her family history: Her father had died at age 33 from cardiovascular disease, and her mother had open-heart surgery at age 60.

As she approached retirement age, she felt relieved. “I assumed I’d beat it,” Maura says. “I didn’t think I was at risk for cardiovascular disease.”

While Maura knew she couldn’t change what she had inherited, she did her best to lead a healthy lifestyle. She obtained a master’s degree in clinical nutrition and worked in health care for 30 years. Throughout that time, she kept active, balancing work and family needs, while she and her husband raised their two children.

Maura O'brien

I thought everything was fine, but it wasn’t. My bad cholesterol had been silently rising. I realized I needed to put my health first, before taking care of everyone else.

— Maura O'brien

One day after climbing some stairs, Maura felt a bit winded and took her sister’s advice to have her heart checked. At the appointment, Maura received shocking news: She had severe blockages in her arteries and urgently needed open-heart surgery. “After I adjusted to the fact that I needed the surgery, I thought, ‘thank goodness they found this – I could have had a heart attack,’” Maura recalls. 

In the past, she had no reason to think her cholesterol was an issue. But when she tracked down her lab data, she discovered that her LDL-C, or bad cholesterol, had risen above normal in recent years. “Had I known, I might have asked my doctor about taking medication earlier to control it,” says Maura. High levels of LDL-C in the blood can cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. This leads to the buildup of plaque on the walls of the arteries, which can result in a heart attack or stroke.

“I thought everything was fine, but it wasn’t,” Maura says. “My bad cholesterol had been silently rising. I realized I needed to put my health first, before taking care of everyone else.”

Finding Strength

After her surgery, Maura took steps to prioritize her health and well-being, like retiring from her job and taking time for herself. She started working out daily, and her husband, a registered nurse, helps with her medication. The changes made a difference: Since her surgery, Maura lowered her cholesterol and lost 22 pounds.

One thing that really helped Maura was thinking about her loved ones. She stays motivated by looking at family pictures. “I keep thinking, ‘This is what I’m living for,’” she says. “‘This is the love.’”

Maura O'brien

I did better than my mother did. And I want my daughter, my grandchildren — everyone — to do even better than I have.

— Maura O'brien

Leading a Legacy

Maura also knows how important it is to pass healthy habits on to her children and grandchildren, so that she can impact their health in the future. “My oldest grandson is 11 and I’m already talking to him about healthy habits,” she says. “And I have a granddaughter. We talk about fruits and vegetables at a six-year-old level and exercise together.”

In addition to inspiring her younger family members, Maura helps educate other women about cardiovascular disease through the organization WomenHeart. “I did better than my mother did. And I want my daughter, my grandchildren — everyone — to do even better than I have.”

Take Your Pledge

Join Maura in taking the pledge. Together, we can help lead a legacy of fewer lives lost.

The Legacy We Lead aims to halt the rise of deaths from cardiovascular disease. Click below to be a part of the change—you'll complete the pledge in a heartbeat, and the benefits will last for generations to come.

10/21 date
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