Susan Lucci had no idea she had a 90 percent blockage in the main artery leading to her heart, a condition known as “the widow maker.”
It all started when the soap opera star felt a tightness in her chest in the fall of 2018 while she and her husband Helmut Huber were having a date night at a restaurant.
“I didn’t think much of it because I had never had anything,” the 73-year-old recalled. “In fact, it had disappeared by the time I was at the table. [But] there was a mild pressure on my chest that also radiated around my rib cage to my back. Like most women, I thought, ‘Oh, it’ll go away.’ And it did.”
However, the unusual pressure resurfaced again a few weeks later.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, maybe I have a new bra on, and I have put it down too tight a hook.’” said the “All My Children” icon. “And even as I was saying that in my inside voice, I knew that wasn’t true, but still I thought, ‘Oh, it can be anything.’ And it, too, went away.
But the third time, Oct. 23 of that year, was much worse. That day, Lucci was shopping at the Tory Burch boutique in Manhasset, Long Island. This time, she couldn’t ignore what she felt — it was as if an elephant was pressing on her chest.
“I couldn’t ignore it,” said Lucci. “I sat down on a little bench. The manager came over to me and asked if I was OK. I must have looked like I was in some kind of distress. And I told her what I was feeling. It turned out that she also had a degree in nursing. She very calmly, probably because of her nursing background, said, ‘Susan, my car is right outside. Why don’t I drive you the hospital?’ That hospital was … right down the road about a mile. In any case, I was happy to go with her.”
“I was grateful that she was driving me to the hospital, but several things entered my mind,” Lucci continued. “First of all, like most women, I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I have too much to do… The doctor’s going to think that I’m overreacting. I’m being overly dramatic and he’ll send me away and meanwhile, I will have interrupted his time with patients who really need him.’”
By the time Lucci arrived at the hospital, the pain did go away. But it was also on that day when a CT scan revealed Lucci had a 90 percent blockage in her major artery, as well as a 75 percent blockage in an adjacent artery. Two stents were quickly inserted into her arteries and she was released the next day.
“As I was being released, the nurses told me how lucky I was that I had avoided the widow maker,” Lucci recalled. “I would’ve had a fatal heart attack. I’ll tell you if I had been alone shopping, just alone, I probably would’ve continued on my to-do list. If I had been home by myself, I would have just had some water, lay down and I probably wouldn’t have gotten up. … It’s really important to listen to your body. If it’s not behaving in a way that’s normal to you, don’t be afraid that they’ll think you’re overreacting. Go to the hospital, go to the ER. … Go and listen to your body and act on it.”
Lucci admitted she was stunned by the revelation. Not only does she have a healthy diet, but she also does Pilates six days a week to stay in shape.
“What I had was not caused by a cholesterol buildup or anything except it was DNA,” said Lucci. “I got my dad’s genes for a calcium buildup in my arteries. … There’s much more than just appearance. … A test needs to be done. I had a scan that showed I had a 90 percent blockage. I had no idea.”
Lucci insisted that she’s feeling great these days. However, she was eager to share her experience with other women in hopes it can save a life.
In February 2019, she walked the runway for the American Heart Association’s annual Go Red For Women Red Dress Collection during New York Fashion Week, which shines a spotlight on the issue of heart disease in women.
This year, Lucci attended the event but didn’t strut down the catwalk.
“First of all, I think after last year they will not allow me to walk anymore,” the American Heart Association ambassador joked. “I had a little snafu — I slipped on my dress. It was a gorgeous dress, but I slipped and fell. Fortunately, I was able to pop right back up, but it felt ridiculous. In any way, I’m here to support Go Red for Women, the American Heart Association.”
In honor of February, which is American Heart Month, the American Heart Association and CVS have teamed up to provide free screenings on the first three Thursdays of the month.
“They’re screening for something else too, which is a calcium screening in arteries,” said Lucci. “That was my particular situation. … Heart disease, unfortunately, is the number one killer of women every year. … There’s something that we as women and men can do to help ourselves to save our lives.”
Lucci also has plenty of reasons to be thankful she’s alive. She credited her husband for always being by her side. The couple has been married since 1969.
“I got really lucky because I married somebody who is smart and handsome and he’s very confident and he has a great sense of humor,” she said. “And fortunately, he’s not only been supportive, which is a lovely word. He’s been with me, really with me hands-on and right there. He’s really been a rock and I got lucky because how could I know all that going in. I was 22.”
Lucci is also keeping busy. On Valentine’s Day, many of her personal possessions from over the years will be auctioned off at the international auction site Everything But The House.
“And I’m going to say it also stands for Everything But The Emmy,” she chuckled.
The soap star famously won her first Emmy in 1999 after 19 nominations in the best actress category for her portrayal of Erica Kane. Lucci starred in “All My Children” from 1970 until its end in 2011.
Does Lucci still miss playing the character who was married no fewer than 11 times to eight different men, was kidnapped, survived a plane crash and a car accident, battled drug addiction and became the owner of her own cosmetics empire?
“Oh yes,” said Lucci. “Erica was so much fun to play. I used to say to Stephanie Nolasco Agnes [Nixon], ‘Don’t you think Erica needs to lie down sometimes? Don’t you think she’s exhausted a little bit?’ Because she was very active. She had a lot of husbands and a lot of shenanigans going on, but such a wonderful part.”
“I miss the people,” Lucci continued. “… I would watch the crew do this quiet, subtle ballet while we were doing our scenes. They’re moving quietly and they couldn’t make a sound, but they’re really allowing us to communicate. … And that was as beautiful as anything else. And the fact that they would be there for rehearsals — if they laughed at the jokes, you knew you were onto something. If they cried at the dramatic scenes, [it’s] because that’s when they could during rehearsal. Otherwise, they weren’t allowed to make a peep. It was really a great time.”