Mom of two: It wasn’t allergies, but heart failure

Mom of two: It wasn’t allergies, but heart failure

From sun up to sun down, SuSu Scialabba and her husband, Jeff, were working to keep a new business going. Juggling the start-up and their children’s activities became extremely challenging. At age 49, SuSu’s health was suffering. There was no time for healthy food or workouts at the gym.

“I was laying in bed one night and I remember feeling weird,” says Scialabba. “It felt like I was suffocating. I wrote it off as stress.”

The same suffocating feeling woke her up several nights later.

“Then one morning, I got the same feeling and started to panic,” she says. “I kept trying to catch my breath, but there was never enough air, I couldn’t breathe deep enough. I was gasping.”

When Scialabba’s allergist suggested it might be asthma or allergies, it seemed understandable. Her new puppy, Gibson, or maybe high mold counts seemed like plausible triggers. But medication and air purifiers did not make a difference. After a while, things got progressively worse.


“I had always been a very vibrant, high energy person,” lamented Scialabba. “All of a sudden, I wasn’t able to do anything. My legs and ankles were swollen at the end of the day. Finally I felt like my body was broken. My quality of life was suffering tremendously.”

She remembers one day, sitting on the couch, unable to take Gibson outside.

“I sat there and realized I did not have the energy to walk the few steps to the door,” she says.

Scialabba returned to her allergist who immediately ordered a chest x-ray. She had barely gotten home when her primary care physician called and asked her to come in immediately.

“I was in shock,” Scialabba remembers. “She told me I was in end-stage heart failure.”

An echocardiogram confirmed that her heart was only functioning at 15 percent. Normal functioning is between 55 and 65 percent.

“When SuSu got to my office, her situation was very critical,” says Dr. Leslie Brookfield, a cardiologist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. “We did testing and immediately prescribed a diuretic, beta blocker and ace inhibitor. We educated her on how to monitor her blood pressure and manage her diet.”

She also left the office with a life vest containing a defibrillator. It would be protection against a sudden heart attack and death.

Scialabba began feeling better almost immediately. Later testing found that she had come out of heart failure. Her heart was functioning at 50 percent again.

“When someone is in their 40s, heart failure would be an unusual diagnosis,” says Dr. Brookfield.  “Though we don’t know what started it, possibly a virus, I recommend that anyone feeling the way SuSu was feeling should ask their physician about other possibilities that could explain the symptoms.”

“It was a miracle,” Scialabba says about her recovery. “I have a smile on my face that no one can wipe off. I no longer have the new business and am dedicated to good health and to my family. I now know what is really important in life.”

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One Comment

  1. At age 48, I too was miss diagnosed…..they said walking phenomena then panic attacks. Neither of which I was certain was true. I had all the classic symptoms and an internal medicine and Pulmonary specialist both misdiagnosed it. The ER diagnosed it at Sherman in 2001…my cardiologist then prescribed Lasix. Given that I had a history of a congenital valve problem with a valve repair …this should have been caught right away. My cardiologist Dr Secemsky at Advocate Sherman caught it in an instant after I suffered for 10 days and almost didn’t make it. Have not had a reoccurrences since. I work out daily on the treadmill and also do weight training……..good care an competent physicians make the difference. Thanks to Dr Secemsky

About the Author

Evonne Woloshyn
Evonne Woloshyn

Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!