More than half a million Americans struggle with heart disease and among that group are some A-list names. In honor of American Heart Month, here are some familiar faces and their stories.
1. Jennie Garth
Beverly Hills 90210 star Jennie Garth's sister and mother had high blood pressure and her father was diagnosed with arterial sclerosis when he was only 37 years old. So when Jennie turned 30, she made it a point to see a cardiologist, who diagnosed her with heart valve regurgitation (colloquially known as a leaky valve), luckily a disease that only needs treatment based on severity. She is now a spokeswoman for Go Red For Women, an organization that funds the American Heart Association's research.
2. Alex Trebek
Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek is a two-time heart attack survivor. He suffered his first attack in December 2007, but was only hospitalized for a few days and returned to the show the next month. He faced his second attack in June 2012. At first he thought the squeezing, tight pain he felt was from pulling a muscle doing housework. It was actually the result of blockage in an artery. Luckily the blockage healed itself, not requiring surgery.
3. Shaun White
It's hard to believe, but Olympic medalist and daredevil Shaun White was born with four heart abnormalities causing him to go through two open-heart surgeries before he was a year old. Doctors told him, with his condition, he would have to limit the amount of physical activity he participated in growing up. But instead of slowing down he pushed those limits, saying his setbacks instilled a bit of fight in him from the very get-go. He has gone on to win 14 X Games gold medals, two Winter Olympic gold medals, and 10 ESPY awards. He is also a dedicated donor to the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
4. Barbara Walters
Barbara Walters, former host of The Today Show and The View, began experiencing pressure in her upper chest in May 2010, and was told shortly after that she would need to receive an aortic valve replacement. While she says she wasn't scared, she still made sure she revised her will with her daughter, Jackie.
After undergoing surgery, Barbara went through an amazing recovery and was back to work by July to host President Barack Obama for his first-ever appearance on a daytime talk show. She has been very open about her experience, and in 2011, she did a special on ABC called A Matter of Life or Death, in which she interviewed other heart disease survivors such as Robin Williams and Bill Clinton.
5. Regis Philbin
America's beloved Regis Philbin, former star of Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, first began experiencing heart problems in the early 1990s and underwent angioplasty in 1993. While he had a great recovery, he tearfully announced on his show in 2007 that he had been re-experiencing heart troubles and would be taking leave to undergo triple bypass surgery. The surgery was successful and was only able to keep him away from hosting for two months. Now Regis is a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, and lives a healthy and active lifestyle.
6. Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton is a veteran when it comes to battling heart disease. In 2004, doctors found that his arteries were 90% blocked. He underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery and then a second operation in 2005 to address complications with the first.
In 2011, Bill began experiencing chest pains again and underwent another surgery on a coronary artery. Since then, he has taken his heart issues seriously, saying he is lucky he never had a heart attack or he'd probably be dead. He has adopted a vegan diet, has made it a point to exercise regularly, and routinely meets with his cardiologist.
7. Toni Braxton
Grammy winner Toni Braxton calls herself "the poster girl for heart disease." In 2003, while starring in the musical Aida, she passed out during an intermission from overwhelming fatigue and chest pains. Though she wanted to continue the show, she was taken to the hospital and was there diagnosed with pericarditis, inflammation of the protective sac around the heart. Since then, she has followed a cautious diet, kept an eye on her high blood pressure, and taken part in charity events such as the Heart Truth annual Red Dress Collection runway show and the Woman's Day Red Dress Awards.
8. Burt Reynolds
Actor Burt Reynolds, best known for his roles in Smokey and the Bandit and The Longest Yard, says he had no symptoms that could've tipped him off to his heart trouble. After an annual checkup, Burt found out all five of his arteries were backed up. He received a quintuple bypass a month later in February 2010. He says he was a heart attack waiting to happen, and that he now feels great.
9. David Letterman
TV host and comedian David Letterman hadn't missed a day of work since he began hosting the Late Show with David Letterman in 1982. But on January 14, 2000, that changed when he was told he needed to undergo an emergency quintuple bypass surgery due to severe blockages in his arteries. Remembering his father died at age 57 from a heart attack, he decided to have the surgery that same day. Letterman was walking around the hospital only three days later, and received a warm welcome when he returned to his show in late February. At the time, he joked with guests that, after all he'd been through, he was just happy to be finally wearing clothes that open in the front.
10. Kelsey Grammer
Frasier star Kelsey Grammer originally told the media that he had a "minor heart attack" when he was paddleboarding with then wife Camille in Kona, Hawaii, in 2008. But he later revealed it was more serious than he let on -- he was shocked twice before his heart started again. Kelsey told Oprah, in a segment of Next Chapter, that the heart attack was a good event in his life because it inspired him to make personal changes sooner rather than later.
11. Star Jones
When Star Jones, former co-host of The View, made it a habit to live a healthy lifestyle and beat obesity, the last thing she expected was to be diagnosed with heart disease. But in 2010, she was told she needed to receive open-heart surgery to fix her aortic valve. While she was terrified of the procedure, she decided to go through with it and has had a healthy recovery. She has been a National Volunteer for the American Heart Association for three years, making it her mission to promote awareness of heart disease and empower women to take control of their own heart health before it's too late.
- By Shannon Rosenberg
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