Detective of the heart

Holly Morrell lives with a heart ailment that can kill, but if detected early, is survivable.

December 30, 2010|By Ashley Breeding,
  • Holly Morrell runs Heartfelt Cardiac Projects, a non-profit that provides cardiac screening for a nominal donation.
Holly Morrell runs Heartfelt Cardiac Projects, a non-profit… (KENT TREPTOW, Coastline…)

Editor's note: This corrects the cost of the cardiact testing and what the testing idenfies.

Nearly two years ago, a seemingly healthy 21-year-old man signed up for cardiac screening at the Heartfelt Cardiac clinic in Laguna, as part of a requirement on his physical examination to become an overseas missionary. To his surprise, the tests revealed a large hole in his heart, a condition that would call for immediate medical attention and open-heart surgery.

"He was diagnosed with Atrial Septal Defect, a potentially life threatening disease," said Holly Morrell, founder of the Heartfelt Cardiac Projects, a nonprofit that aims to save lives from sudden cardiac death through early detection, education and increased public awareness. "Because of the early detection, he is able to do his missionary work abroad and live a happy, healthy life."

The No. 1 killer in the United States and among women, sudden cardiac arrest — an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes it to suddenly stop beating — claims about 300,000 lives each year, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Assn. About 95% of victims who suffer from cardiac arrest don't survive.


"We detected life-threatening situations in three people from right here in Laguna Beach just this past summer," Morrell said.

"Most of these deaths occur with no warning. That's why early detection is so important. It gives you either peace of mind, or prompts you to seek proper medical attention."

With an extreme family history of genetic heart disease — she has lost six family members to heart failure, and is one of three living members of her family who live with a heart condition — Morrell said she wanted to devote her life to helping others prevent what she believe is a preventable tragedy.

Thanks to early detection, she became aware of her hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and was given an implantable defibrillator, ready to administer a life-saving shock if necessary.

An avid tennis player and hiker, Morrell said she wants others to know heart disease doesn't have to be a death sentence.

"You can still live a happy and healthy life," she said. "There are plenty of interventional methods available. You just need to know that you have it."

Established 11 years ago, Morrell’s nonprofit offers affordable screening to the public nationwide and through the Sports Performance Institute in Laguna Canyon. The screening, which normally costs $1,500, is offered for an $85 tax-deductible donation.

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