TV reporter Jennifer Donelan survives heart attack at age 36

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥ @HeartSisters

Television news reporter Jennifer Donelan was just 36 years old when she had a heart attack near the end of a busy day at work last September. Five months after surviving this horrific cardiac event, she’s now back at ABC 7 News in Washington, DC, where she hosted a three-part Heart Month series on women living with heart disease. She explained: 

“I wanted to share three reports I did at my station this month about women and heart disease. Two of the three survivors who shared their stories are graduates of the WomenHeart Science and Leadership Symposium.

“We also had a phone bank at our studio and we invited cardiologists, nurses, cardiac rehab experts, and a heart disease survivor and WomenHeart Champion. The phone lines were on fire! I was astonished! There’s still such a need out there, and women have so many questions about our number one killer.

“My sincere thanks to these three women for their courage and willingness to share their stories.”

#1:  Marianne Lawrence, a fit, non-smoking vegetarian, was 54 years old and training for a hiking trip to the Himalayas when she was diagnosed with heart disease during a routine medical test. Other than an “on-again and off-again” ache in her left shoulder and what she calls “loud indigestion”, which was unusual for her, Marianne had no obvious cardiac symptoms. Learn Marianne’s story – and find out if she ever did make that trek to the Himalayas.

#2:  Beverly Haskins is a 37-year-old mother of two whose early cardiac symptoms were just “fluttering, beating, with some pain in the back of my throat”. But these unusual symptoms didn’t slow her down from doing her Christmas shopping and getting ready for her holiday guests for the next three days.  Find out what happened to Bev when she finally decided to seek medical attention for what turned out to be a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia.

#3:  Cindy DeMarco-Franco, who suffered a heart attack at age 30, survived to tell her compelling story. Her description of being ignored by E.R. doctors (one offered her just a muscle relaxant to ease her back, arm and jaw pain!) will sound familiar to women who, like me, were sent home from Emergency with a misdiagnosis. (Women under the age of 55 are, in fact, seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack and sent home).  Watch Cindy’s message about the importance of  “Being Your Own Advocate”.

Learn more about Jennifer’s own compelling story of her heart attack, caused by a rare and often fatal  condition called Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection – tragically, 80% of SCAD victims are young, healthy women like Jennifer. Her first symptoms started around 5:30 p.m. on September 8, 2010, chillingly illustrated by the 911 call placed by her news broadcasting colleague, live-truck operator Bruce Bookhultz: “My reporter is having a real bad time breathing.”

© 2011


 Have you been diagnosed with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection? Find out today if you are eligible to participate in two new SCAD studies at Mayo Clinic.

See also: How Does It Really Feel To Have A Heart Attack? Women Survivors Tell Their Stories

5 thoughts on “TV reporter Jennifer Donelan survives heart attack at age 36

  1. I inherited Familial Combined Hyperlipideamia and Hypertension from my Mom. We have both been overweight since childhood and, stupidly, despite knowing the risks, I started smoking 20 cigarettes a day aged only 14!

    My Mom has suffered 3 heart attacks, the first aged only 19! She has a total of 8 stents from 2 angioplasties and last year aged 37 she suffered a massive STEMI, 100% occlusion of her proximal Left Anterior Descending coronary artery. This time angiography revealed that she had extensive Coronary Artery Disease including restenosis of the stents in her LAD, and that a quadruple bypass was the only option.

    I suffered my first heart attack aged just 17! I received 3 stents in my proximal LAD and 2 stents in my proximal Right Coronary Artery! Last year aged only 20, and 4 months before Mom, I had another, this time massive heart attack, I required a triple bypass RCA, LAD and Circumflex Coronary Artery.

    We have both suffered extensive damage to our heart muscle and we both now suffer from Angina. My point is that CAD and massive STEMI can happen to anyone of any sex at any age. We now, thanks to new medications, have our lipids and blood pressure under control. Although we are both resigned to living shorter lives because of the CAD and myocardial damage.

    Even our Cardiologist has warned us that another heart attack is likely later in life for both of us. We are doing our best with drugs, diet and exercise to stay as fit and healthy and so far we are on top of it all.


    1. Wow, you and your mother have quite the story, Suz! Thanks for sharing it with us here. Congrats on finally paying attention to the massive wake-up calls. Good luck to you on your healthy lifestyle makeover!


  2. Jennifer’s story is important for many reasons but especially because she illustrates how young women can indeed suffer catastrophic heart attacks. It’s not just middle-aged fat male smokers out there who are at risk. We MUST change this unfortunate stereotype for the public and for the medical profession. Heart disease is the #1 killer of women, as you have reminded us frequently here. Thank you, Carolyn.


  3. All amazing stories – both Jennifer’s own story and the three women she has profiled on her TV news reports. Was this aired outside D.C? Should have been publicized nationally. Jennifer profiled regular average women like us – unlike the Barbara Walters much-talked-about TV heart special in which she interviewed only rich, white, male celebrity heart patients like Bill Clinton and Robyn Williams. Jennifer’s shows are far more relevant to the average woman.


  4. hi carolyn – Jennifer is a good example of a person who survives a terrible event yet is able to make something good happen out of the bad experiance by telling the stories of the 3 other survivors is so amazing, if only all women could see this and realise that heart disease can happen to any of us, thanks so much for this.


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