Image of a woman with two boys posing for a photo on a mountain hike

Lynn Hébert had a heart attack when she was just 43 years old

The day it happened, Lynn had numbness up her arm and in her jaw. Her husband Michael, a pediatrician, recognized the symptoms and immediately drove her to the ER. When they arrived, the doctors told Lynn she was having an anxiety attack. Certain that it was much more than that, Michael insisted that the doctors run tests. An EKG revealed that Lynn was, indeed, having a heart attack.

Lynn, her family and her doctors were all stunned. She was young, fit and had no family history of heart issues. She worked out every day, did not smoke and her blood pressure was on the low side. Despite all of this, Lynn had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a tear in a blood vessel in her heart. Why it happened still puzzles her doctors to this day. She had five stents—tiny tubes that help keep arteries open—placed in her heart to repair the damage.

As she recovered from her heart attack, Lynn digested the enormity of what had happened to her. She could have died.

“There is definitely a before and an after,” says Lynn. “I had to see a psychologist to learn how to cope with what I went through.”

Forty-three years old and a heart attack survivor, Lynn lived in constant fear that it could happen again.

“It came out of the blue, and my boys were only four and eight at the time. It was always in the back of my mind that I could have another heart attack. I want to see my boys grow old,” says Lynn.

Unsure who to turn to, Lynn found a group of SCAD heart attack survivors on Facebook. Then her sister told her about the Women’s Healthy Heart Initiative (WHHI). Founded by nurse Wendy Wray at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), WHHI is a free program that focuses on awareness, prevention and education to empower women to improve their heart health. It is unique in that it does not require a referral—women can make an appointment at any time. Heart disease is often thought to be a man’s disease, but the reality is that one in three Canadian women die from it.

“There is so much more information out there on men’s heart attacks, and people don’t even realize that women are having heart attacks. We are told we’re having anxiety attacks, but we know ourselves enough to understand the difference. Don’t let yourself doubt. Be your own advocate,” says Lynn.

WHHI helps women reduce their risk of heart disease by focusing on seven steps for healthy hearts: getting active, eating better, controlling cholesterol, managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and avoiding smoking. Women have access to one-on-one consultations, personalized risk assessments, and support from a dietician and personal trainer to help them improve their heart health.

Since Lynn joined WHHI, she no longer lives in constant fear of having another heart attack.

“For me, WHHI was a lifesaver. It’s scary to have a heart attack and not know why. To be listened to and to know someone is there to help is a great comfort. It is so important to have women advocating for women.” says Lynn.

Nine years later, Lynn continues to live the active lifestyle she loves, and is an avid runner, cyclist and gardener. Her sons are now teenagers and keep her busy. She still doesn’t know why she had a heart attack, but the care she receives from the WHHI gives her confidence in her own health.

When asked what advice she would give women who think they are having a heart attack, Lynn emphasized the importance of trusting yourself.

“Listen to your inner voice. If you think something is wrong, go get tested. You might end up in the ER for nothing, but it’s better safe than sorry,” says Lynn.

The Women’s Healthy Heart Initiative was founded in 2009 and is the first collaborative nurse-led women’s heart disease prevention program in Canada. The program is entirely donor funded, and would not be possible without the generosity of others. In 2021, the WHHI was fortunate to receive generous gifts of $250,000 from the estate of Herta Vodstrcil and $500,000 from an anonymous donor to create an endowment to help ensure the continuation of the program. These gifts make a vast difference, but the WHHI continues to require donor support to help as many women as possible.

The WHHI is a lifeline for women like Lynn, who regained her health and her happiness thanks to the program.

The WHHI is a priority of the MUHC Foundation’s $50 million Dream Big. Fix Broken Hearts campaign. Our promise is that, in ten years, Montreal will have the lowest rate of hospitalizations and fewest deaths due to heart disease in Canada. To learn more and to donate, visit www.muhcfoundation.com/dream-big/cardiology/whhi/